Monday, November 23, 2009
Some holiday reminiscing...
When I was little, my holidays were long and fruitful. Belgium has a strong tradition of celebration of the Christmas season. My family is Catholic, however far from practicing. But when I was a child, I was surrounded by people who were, and in part, I was able to participate in Catholic traditions. I would attend mass at huge stone cathedrals, and attend Christmas mass with family friends. Sometimes, I really miss those big old echoing churches and the formal, somber pageantry of Orthodox Catholic mass. Yeah, I'm not sure why... but I do.
On December 6 (I think Holland celebrates it on the 5th), in Belgium, children are lucky. If they put their shoes outside their door or by the fireplace or stove, they will receive gifts and treats from St. Nicholas. Namely , Sinterklaas’s helper does the delivering. He is known as the politically incorrect “Zwarte Piet”. It means “Black Pete”. From what I remember as a kid, he was St. Nicholas’s (Sinterklaas) assistant and he came up from Spain with St. Nicholas. The reason why he was black was because he had to go down so many chimneys… however his character has evolved into as sometimes blackface parody that often incites controversy. He has always been Sinterklaas’s assistant, not his slave, and he helps Sinterklaas deliver toys and tangerines and treats to all the children. From what I understand, he’s been multiplying lately too, and there are now more than one Piets helping Sinterklaas.
Our December 6 fare was usually tiny Milkana chocolate bars, Kinder-surprise eggs (mmmmm, I miss those!) a huge Speculaas (ginger type cookie) in the shape of Sinterklaas, a tangerine or Clementine, and some little toys and such. That is the first ‘reap’ of the season.
Then we got Christmas like everyone else, tree and all; in addition to the second ‘reap’ of toys and goodness.
Then on January 6, we got to celebrate Three Kings Day, and we’d set off in groups of three wearing robes and paper crowns, and badger neighbors for change and treats. Score! Third ‘reap’. We’d cap off Three Kings celebration with a King cake… which has a little bean, sometimes a coin. And whoever got the slice with the token got to wear the crown. Cake & candy. Megascore.
Such fun. :0) So yeah… it’s a long holiday over there. And kids get major score-age. I miss that crazy culture. One day, I'll tell you all about the Carnaval de Binche with the orange-hucking, feathery-headed Gilles... So cool. I can still hear the bells ringing. I miss Belgium so much sometimes it actually hurts.