December 02, 2012

Saint Nicholas in Beirut

Saint Nicholas arrived in Beirut today

The Dutch are not very religious people.  A poll showed that in the year 2000 62% of the Dutch no longer felt connected to an organized religion. Predictions are that in 202 this will increase to about 72%. You wouldn’t say; we once fought an 80-year war (partially) over religion  .  But those days are obviously gone.

He's a man that is greatly feared by young children; if you have been naughty, no presents for you and you end up in a bag and sent to Spain. Here's one in total panic. 

Yet in our cultural heritage, we’ve got quite a few remainders of the days when religion was a big deal. And one of those days we celebrated today; Saint Nicolas , or Sinterklaas in Dutch.
Saint Nicholas was originally a bishop in Myra , somewhere in Turkey. 
Exactly how he ended up being the man who would bring all children presents on December the 5th is unclear to me. He was also the patron saint of - among others - prostitutes, pirates, unmarried ladies (kind of odd how they end up in this line-up), lovers, thieves, murderers and children. 
From this Saint Nicholas – who is celebrated on December the 5th – originates the fat guy, Santa Claus, who hands out gifts on December the 24 (although for the longest time this would not be the case in Holland, as he had already passed by on December the 5th)

This is where the children put their shoes, so that they get candy in them (This tradition  has been passed on to Christmas in the form of stockings)

The Dutch community in Beirut has celebrated Saint Nicholas for as long as there has been a Dutch community here. Nothing has been recorded about our history here, but we’ve got some old-timers in there who remember taking their children to Sinterklaas, and these children are in their fifties now.  The old priest that played Saint Nicholas for many years, Pater Vlugt, is now in his eighties and retired, but his post has been taken up by a succession of elderly Dutch men. The last couple of years however, the Dutch community in Beirut has been rejuvenating  and it got quite difficult to find an elderly man playing the role of dignified Saint. 

Quite a few Dutch children in Beirut

Our all-time low was when we had to call on the duties of someone who probably was 27 years old; way too young for a saint!! I believe it was they year when my son's faith in the man stopped. 

This year, we fared quite a bit better; the new Heineken man in town was willing to take up the post of Saint. From attending a James Bond premier to playing Saint Nicholas; smooth like butter. 
Saint Nicolas on his way out, together with one of the Zwarte Pieten (Black Peet; a rather controversial personality in Holland these days. 

And none of the children noticed that half of his garb was missing. The beard and the hair was there, but the miter rested on a bald head; they’d lost his wig!!

My daughter, a ten year old, is still a believer. This is quite unusual, as most children have figured out by 1st grade that there’s something fishy about the whole process of helper Saints and presents all over the place in one night. But since this is a sheltered community, and she does not go to school with other Dutch children, no one has yet burst her bubble. And happy she is in her little bubble.  

I've been good this year, says Zwarte Piet
The man is now on his way to Holland where he will have to dole out presents to the rest of the Dutch children, on December the 5th. 

1 comment:

Emie said...

Mooie Sint en Piet, daar hoeft de mijne niet voor over te komen, toch? Het feest bij jullie ziet er trouwens oerhollands en erg gezellig uit.
We waren niet gelijktijdig in Istanbul maar als ik weer plannen heb laat ik het je weten :)