December 06, 2011

Saint Nicolas in Beirut

A Christmas tree and somebody's legs

I already had my Christmas tree up a week ago. No self-respecting Dutch decorates their Christmas tree before St. Nicolas, which in Holland is celebrated on the eve of December 5th, but I’ve been out of the country for so long that that is a tradition I have ditched. However, we did celebrate Saint Nicolas on Sunday, and so now I can come out of the closet with my tree.
Saint Nicolas is checking in his Big Book to see whether she has been nice

The Dutch community in Lebanon is a small, but pretty tight one. Quite a few of them are ‘doing life’ which is what you get when you marry a local boy. And on Sunday we drove to the mountains above Beirut to celebrate Saint Nicolas. It is quite close to the Lebanese tradition of Saint Barbara , but that’s a different saint all together.

Of the few tradition we Dutch have, Saint Nicolas is one you celebrate if you have ‘believers’ in the family. ‘Believers’ are in general small children up to the age of 12. After that (or probably way before that, but they still play along in order to get gifts) they no longer believe in this bishop of Spain who miraculously drops by on the night of December the fifth, and doles out presents to all the Dutch children, no matter where on Earth they live.

Two apprensive children, waiting for the verdict of Black Pete to see if they get a present or not

I still have one believer in the house, a nine year old, who was slightly disappointed this year over the gift that Saint Nicolas had chosen for her. “I wouldn’t have gone for a suit case,” she said, after viewing the little blue suitcase on wheels. Well, better luck next year (if you still believe by then; otherwise, no gifts).

We’re lucky that we’re still celebrating it with Zwarte Piet (black Pete), Saint Nicolas helpers. In Holland there’s been a debate going on for quite some time about the possible racist implications of Saint Nicolas’s black helpers. In Canada, the Dutch community was not allowed to celebrate it with the black helpers.  (You read this, H? That's right next door to you. Oh, those Canadians).
No worries about this in Lebanon.


joseph said...

Merry Christmas to you and your family. Thanks for a great blog all year.

Mich said...

Glad you found someone to play St. Nicolas. Merry Christmas to you and your loved ones :-)

Sietske said...

Thank you Joseph and Mich!

Bianca said...

The Saint Nicolas celebration at the Dutch school in Cairo, that I worked at for a few years, had to deal with quite a bit of resistance from the British part of the school (that we shared the property with). We were considered ignorant, obsolete and sometimes even racist. Some colleagues would even go as far as to refuse the goodies Saint Nicolas also wanted to treat the British children to..
The only thing that helped was for my colleague to hold a little informative speech during a meeting. More so than the joy the kids had been experiencing for years already!!

Anonymous said...

Does Saint Nicolas speak dutch or english?:) Merry Christmas to you and family!!!

Gray Fox said...

Although my granddaughter is no longer in Beirut, I continue to enjoy reading about your family and your adventures in Lebanon. May I wish you a very happy holiday season!!

Marillionlb said...

Best wishes for you and your loved one for a very merry Christmas !

Marillionlb said...

Oups "ones" that is.

rental mobil said...

Very nice, thanks for sharing. Merry Christmas.

Anonymous said...

I read that!
Are you going home for the holiday?


Anonymous said...

In 1996 the newly arrived ambassador was asked by the mothers to fund the presents and sweets, but he should not be present at the party. Their (Lebanese) husbands might have been more interested in him than in the Saint.

Sietske said...

Thank you all for your kind wishes! I wish you all a healthy and happily merry Christmas.
To H; Yes, I'm going home for the holidays. Mrs. B is too.
And to the Anonymous of December 11, I think I know who you are. M?