Sinterklaas...pakjesavond...5 december 2008
The evening when the family comes together after nearly a month of setting their shoe for the biggest night of the year. The night when Sinterklaas shares his birthday with us by bringing jute bags filled with special presents for all good girls and boys. First, we turn on the stereo filling our home with music, Sinterklaas music to be precise, and we sing at the top of our lungs, into the fireplace and through the windows, trying to make sure Sinterklaas and his pieten know we are ready for his visit. He only comes if you sing for him, and this we do, loudly. There is also much checking out the window to see if we can get a glimpse of him, before he manages to make it to our house. Oh, the anticipation! Candles are lit and the lamps turned low, all the curtains tightly closing up the room, banners with Sinterklaas's face peer down upon us from the rafters. And suddenly, without warning, ginger cookies and little candies are thrown into the room where we sing, raining down upon us to signify that Sinterklaas has heard our song, that he is ready to bring us dreams come true. This is done by the Zwarte Pieten, Sinterklaas's helpers. They manage to wrangle their way into the house and throw us candy and treats without us ever seeing them, as they are very busy delivering goods on pakjesavond (package evening). And as the children crawl all over the room collecting their treats, it suddenly dawns on them that there must be gifts parked outside the door, and they run checking the front. Nope, no presents here. They run to the sliding glass doors on the side of the house, sliding them open, walking out onto the veranda, seeing no bags full of presents, their faces becoming worried as they have searched everywhere, and still not found their stash. But there is one palce left to look, the back door, completely covered by a floor length curtain, and when we glance out beyond we see the pond, but no gifts. It is complete darkness. But then we look again, and suddenly we hear shouts. "He came! He came!! I see presents! Look at how much! I see a present for Tera. Look at that big one" as the door is opened and eyes twinkling, the boys head out to help carry in the goods.
This is the basis of our pakjesavond with Erwin's family. And it truly is magical, something just 8 years ago I couldn't have imagined, and now am myself deeply drawn into the excitement of a month leading up to this moment. The moment of Sinterklaas's arrival. The moment of dreams come true, laughter shared, and eyes twinkling in satisfaction. Perfect boys. Happy boys.
After the gifts are brought in and a bit sorted, we take turns opening them, giving everyone a chance to see what eevryone has received. Some of the gifts have a little poem attached, written about you or soemthign you have done in this past year, and giving a hint as to what gift awaits you inside the colorful paper. This is a task which is difficult for me, but the one I most love during Sinterklaas. Writing up funny poems in Dutch is no easy task, I assure you. But it is a challenge I love to meet, and soemtimes my poems come out truly better thanI expected and sometimes they end up not working at all, but still, these poems are truly from the heart and my favorite of the gifts received on pakjesavond.
My first poem this year came with a book entitled: Feng Sh*t: The Art Of Domestic Disorder. I got a total laugh out of this gift, and it was perfect poem flodder. I'm going to write out the poem in English, so it won't sound as classy and fun as in Dutch, but will give you an idea of what the poem means.
Sinterklaas can read a bit of English
There in your house above the laundry room door
But don't worry
How it looks in color and scent
A clean house is a sign of a misspent life
But you have other things on your mind
Once in awhile it seems you're a desperate housewife
With piles of laundry til over your head
Your house is your home for many things
Cooking, games, computer time and kids
Even time for you to go sing
So once in awhile a messy house
Doesn't worry the good Sinterklaas
There are more fun things in life
Than cleaning, ironing and such
For you living means giving
You have that right, if that's what's important to you.
So, I open the book and it discusses all the manners in which you can have a messy house...and lo and behold, 90% of them fit me to a tee. When we got home the next day, at 2 in the morning, Erwin and I sat together, him reading me the book as we both laughed so hard tears fell from our eyes. It truly is a written diary of my life. For instance: CABINETS: Not for storing things, for hiding things. And : PILE AND DUMP: Use piles to collect and store dirty laundry. Studies show that beneath the door of the washing machine, at the foot of your bed, and any spot on the bathroom floor work best.
This is a perfect book for me. Perfect because it exemplifies my cleaning habits without admonishing me, but instead making it a joke. I really enjoyed this gift, and will whenever I pick it up. So, that's how the gifts and the poems work on pakjesavond...and it is that way for everyone...a bit of humor, a bit of love, a bit of family all combined in those little poems and specially chosen gifts. The kids don't normally get a poem, just the gifts they asked for on their verlanglijstje (wish list)....and plenty of others added in for good mix. Erwin signed his poems this year SintERklaas, which I also found really fun. And one of the poems I received for him was really special, and included a great big canvas that now hangs on our wall of the Welcome sign in Las Vegas. It looks really cool.
In the middle of all the opening and reading poems, we stopped for a coffee break, all sitting around the kitchen table having coffee and cake, discussing our lives and being a family. I feel so completely a part of this family, of this life, and I am thrilled that I have been accepted into such a wonderful home, and the hearts of its inhabitants. My spirit in the holidays is always crying out extra loud, and knowing that even with my own family thousands of miles away, I am a part of another family just as special and important makes it much easier and keeps me happy.
At the end of the evening, as we were all wrapping up the loose ends and collecting our new goods into sacks, suddenly oma noticed another gift hanging from the mailbox. Erwin and the boys went to collect it, and on this gift was my name. I was in shock. Usually, the last gift of the evening is the hoofdcadeau, your main present, and I had already received so much. I was already giddy from the glasses of wine that I had drank, and then to get the last gift was such a special surprise. I opened the poem and read about moving and riding with the wind. About a tiny gift that fits in the mailbox, not in a big bag...and when I opened it, there was a little blue bike statue made from metal. That's when I went outside looking for my real surprise...and there it was, under the porch, a new bike, just for me! I was ecstatic. And in shock! Did I mention how very much this family means to me. Thank you Sinterklaas!
We left oma and opa's home after midnight and the boys fell into dreamland immediately on the way home. I'm sure their dreams were happy and complete, as Kaeden received a High School Musical pillow, his favorite gift, while Jari got his Indiana Jones Legos he's been dying to have. It was another wonderful evening, and one that will remain in my heart for years to come. The magic of the holidays...Dutch style.
Here is a little video of the boys waiting for Sinterklaas to arrive and collecting candy when the Pieten threw it into the house...the beginning of our gezellige avond. It's a bit dark, but so was the room, and you can hear their excitement anyway. I'm also including a link to look at some of the pictures during our night. http://www.kodakgallery.com/ShareLanding.action?c=lgyy8pf.8s0rfmcb&x=0&y=-8d1h2d&localeid=en_US&cm_mmc=site_email-_-site_share-_-core-_-view_photos_button