Reaping rewards of tradition
Blenheim's Sam Molony, 2, was one happy little boy last night thanks to a visit from ‘Sinterklaas'.
The northwest European tradition dates back centuries and celebrates the life of St Nicholas, the patron saint of children.
While some countries, including Belgium, celebrate the day on December 6, in the Netherlands the occasion is marked on December 5.
Weeks before the big day, children put out a boot in which Sinterklaas and his helper ‘Zwarte Piet' can place the loot. In the morning of the big day, children receive smaller gifts and a chocolate letter - the first letter in their name. Then, in the evening, larger presents are delivered in a sack.
Sam's mother, Maike van der Heide, is Dutch and said Sinterklaas was a fun tradition to pass on to her children. Sam's chocolate letter was sent to him by his great-grandparents who live in Drenthe province in the northeast of the country.
"In The Netherlands, it's a big affair - bigger than Christmas," said Ms van der Heide.
The arrival of Sinterklaas is broadcast nationwide, and there is also a special children's Sinterklaas "news" programme, she said.
Blenheim resident Riet van Velthooven, who left The Netherlands more than six decades ago, also has fond memories of the holiday.
She still remembers leaving a shoe at the fireplace with straw and carrots for Zwarte Piet to collect for Sinterklaas' horse and finding presents in their place the next morning.
One of Mrs van Velthooven's favourite traditions was the chocolate letters.
"It was a well-known joke growing up that you got far less chocolate if your name started with an ‘I'," she said. "Fortunately I was always very lucky to get an ‘R' for Riet or an ‘M' for Maria [her middle name] though."
While the day is mainly for children, adults also have some fun, gifting ‘surprise' presents that are usually accompanied by a humorous poem.
The Marlborough Express