THE NETHERLANDS DOMESTIC LIFE AND SPECIAL OCCASIONS
The spotless Dutch kitchen, boasting shiny rows of plates in the cupboards and a collection of spoons hung in a spoon rack, which was always so much a part of pioneer Dutch kitchens, is often still found today. Many Dutch have a fondness for delftware — earthenware dishes glazed in white and blue — as well as for copper utensils and accessories. North American home-styles are very much a part of Dutch life too, but the tradition of gathering around the kitchen table for good food and talk persists.
A part of the Dutch home that is shown with pride is the food cellar. Rows of home-canned fruits, vegetables, pickles, pickled meats, headcheeses, and bins of root vegetables are very much a part of home-making skills. Modem homes make full use of freezers and refrigerators, but the traditional pride in home preserving remains.
More than two-thirds of the Dutch population belong to Protestant sects and the majority of these are members of the Dutch Reformed Church. Of the remainder, some 27 percent are Roman Catholics and about 5 percent are Jews.
Easter is celebrated with daffodils and tulips, honingkoek (honeycake) and krentenbollen (currant buns), while Christmas is quietly celebrated by going to church with family. New Year’s Eve calls for happy family parties with appel beignets (fried apple fritters), oliebollen (deep-fried yeast doughnuts), and appelbollen (apples baked in puff pastry).
The happiest and most important celebration of the year is, surprisingly, neither religious nor patriotic, and is celebrated by everyone regardless of age or religion. This is the delightful festival of St. Nicholas, “a fixture of Dutch culture since the Middle Ages,” and the patron saint of Amsterdam. Although no one seems to know why, as early as mid-November, Sinterklaas, dressed in bishop’s robes and a long beard, arrives by boat from Spain, accompanied by his black helper Swarte Piet (Black Pete) and his white horse. Together they make the rounds of towns and villages, providing toys for good children and reprimands for naughty ones.
For many children, Sinterklaas, with his book of records about children, is scary. Yet, hopeful that they will receive toys, children eagerly prepare for the arrival of Sinterklaas and Swarte Piet by placing one of their shoes, filled with hay, carrots, or cookies for the horse, in front of the fireplace. For them, Sinterklaas and Piet may arrive by horse, barge, car, or even a bicycle. However, adults enjoy the festival with gifts accompanied by rhyming verses, treasure hunts, and practical jokes. Traditionally, a large solid chocolate letter (boterleiter) for each person’s name marks their place at the festive table. Also enjoyed are marzipan and fondant candies, and other special cookies, rich with honey and fragrant with nuts and spices, are called speculaas and taai-taai.
Recently in the Netherlands, the rotund jolly Santa Claus, together with North American holiday jingles, have been encroaching on the Sinterklaas tradition. For those Dutch who retain Christmas as a calmly beautiful religious festival, such commercialization is profanity.