The Dutch are currently in the throes of their most beloved holiday. Over the next few days many a Dutchie will be putting pen to paper (or keyboard to screen) in an attempt to write the perfect Sinterklaasgedicht (Sinterklaas poems).
While endlessly debating Zwarte Piet (yes, even we foreigners have grown tired of it) the Dutch will adamantly tell you that this holiday is “all about the children”. But don’t be fooled, those fully-grown Dutchies love themselves some Sinterklaas just as much as their mini-me’s!
The 18+ version of Sinterklaas however, has a few more twists and turns – namely booze, “surprises” (pronounced surpreees) and gedichten (poems). Family (or friends) draw names for the receiver of their gift & poem on surpriseavond (surprise night). The surprise is a
cheap small gift wrapped in a home-made-craft-project-of-sorts; the paper packaging made to represent a hobby/passion of the gift receiver. Like football? You may just get a 3-foot orange paper jersey! Need a new bike? Guess what? You’re not getting one – but here’s a cardboard version!
I find myself torn between appreciating this very Dutch tradition for its enormous creativity and questioning it for its suspicious thriftiness. Is the overly elaborate home-made packaging just a way to fancy up an otherwise cheap gift? 😉 A proverbial ‘pig in lipstick’?
Regardless, we have yet to get to the juiciest bit of the evening – the poems! What fun would a truly Dutch tradition be if it didn’t involve a little bit of passive-aggressive Dutch directness? To paraphrase our good friend Mr.Wiki “a traditional Sinterklaas poem highlights the less positive traits of its subject in a friendly/joking manner.” Yes, these poems gently (or sometimes not so gently) poke fun at the
victim subject in a humorously sarcastic way.
Trust those Dutchies to use a festive holiday as a means for ‘keeping it real‘! In fact, it’s essentially the principle of “doe normaal” set to rhymes. Think your cousin is a bit too braggy about all that money he makes? Now’s the chance to tell him you aren’t so impressed – in a sing-songy note! A recipe for disaster or just plain good fun? I suppose it depends on the company you keep!
And so dear readers, stay tuned as we’re busy composing our poem to YOU! In the meantime, have you got a great one to share? Were grudges held after a particularly harsh gedicht? ‘Tis the season of the sarcastic sonnet!
p.s. still need a gift? Look no further!