I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Dutch birthdays are weird. Sure, they’ve got those odd (albeit handy) calendars in their bathrooms to remind them of the big days, but why remember if you ain’t even the one bringing the cake! All those birthday “gefeliciteerds” are great for us (non-Dutchies) to practice our “g’s”, but the celebrations do seem to be lacking a little je ne sais quoi. The Dutch 50th birthday, however, is the exception: full of eccentricities, nonsense, and good ol’ fashion fun!
When Dutch people turn fifty they are said to be either “seeing Abraham” or “seeing Sara”. Say what?! There’s sadly no bathroom humour here (as it doesn’t relate to my grandma’s “seeing a man about a dog”) however, the connotations are equally odd.
In this case, to “see” Sarah or Abraham is a biblical reference. The original meaning is still up for debate, but from my highly rigorous research (aka googling for precisely 2 minutes) it seems to include adultery, stoning, barren-women, seeing ghosts, aging, death, and sinning – yes, all the elements necessary for a rousing bible story!! Somewhere amidst the judgements and morals there is a rather literal reference to turning 50 years old and “seeing Abraham”. How it then made its way into the Dutch lexicon is anyone’s guess…
The Dutch clearly decided to put their own spin on the biblical tale. When Dutch people hit the big 5-0 in the Lowlands, the birthday celebrations tended to include either a cake or pastry symbolizing the aging birthday boy or girl.
Somehow, over time (again don’t ask) the tradition evolved (as traditions should!) and that little pastry person morphed into a life-size doll in the likeness of the guest of honour! Think scarecrow-esque figures on front lawns, human paper-mâché travesties and five-meter-tall blow-up balloons of graying women (aka Sarah) or balding men (aka Abraham).
As we all know, celebrations in the Lowlands are not complete without some
snarky witty poems; such ditties, written by friends and family, often accompany the festivities. If you’re particularly lucky, those unfavourable poems might just adorn your front lawn as well!
Now before y’all start schooling me on Dutch traditions, I am highly aware that this particular one has lost some steam in recent years --but I am hoping for its revival. These grey Dutch skies could use a bit more colour, and if that needs to come in the shape of gaudy human-like balloons, then so be it!
I can say with all certainty that I won’t be spending my 50th birthday in the Lowlands. However, it is one Dutch thing I just may be tempted to bring home with me to Canada - along with my beloved bicycle and my Dutch directness, of course!