Wednesday, November 4, 2009

My little pony

In Belgium, there's a tradition that all children look forward to: Saint-Nicholas. The holy man climbs roof tops, sitting on a horse, loaded with bags filled with toys and goodies. He and his helpers - the Black Peters - shove the presents down the chimney, for the children to find in the morning. But first, the children need to write a letter to Saint-Nicholas, telling him how good they have been and finishing it of with a wish list of presents. Around Saint-Nicholas' Day, our mailboxes are filled with commercials on toys and games. So the children cut out pictures of the things they like and stick them on their letter. Of course the letter needs to be sent to the holy man. It needs a stamp and of it goes.
Most children are really in to this tradition until the age of 8 or 9. It's a feast they celebrate in school as well. First the Black Peeters come to school, mostly secretly, throwing little cookies and tangerines in the class rooms. Some Black Peeters are a little naughty and cheeky. Those are the Peeters the children like best. Some Peeters carry a bag made out of sackcloth. Those bags are meant for the bad children.. They'd better behave if they do not want to end up in the bag!
Some parents tell Saint-Nicholas about the mischief of their children. You should see the look in the eyes of the kids when Saint-Nicholas - all dressed up - points them to their wrong behavior. Some kids are really scared and fear the Black Peeters and their sackcloth bags!
The night before the feast of Saint-Nicholas, children are supposed to put one of their shoes in front of the chimney. They should make a drawing for the holy man and leave some lumps of sugar and a fresh carrot for the horse . They may also put aside a can of beer for Black Peeter, but that's not obligatory.

It is a nice tradition. You can compare it to Santa Claus (the Dutch word for Saint-Nicholas is Sinterklaas - how similar that is to Santa Claus), but it's not the exact same thing. Some parts of Belgium celebrate Saint-Nicholas on November 11th. Other parts have him on December 6th. Either way, any child looks forward to having the holy man come through the chimney, leaving them with a bunch of presents.

I wonder if Saint-Nicholas will bring us some goodies this year...

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