Sinterklaas & the art of giving

There are ‘surprises’ and there are ‘Surprises’. And wow, did my friend Kristin’s son (9 years) make a Surprise-with-a-capital-S for his classmate! It reminded me of what I love most about Sinterklaas: the art of giving!

The definition of ‘a surprise’

Kristin's son made this impressive wolf-head with wire and paper together with his father.
Kristin’s son made this impressive wolf-head with wire and paper together with his father.

Let me begin by explaining what we Dutch people mean with the word ‘suprise’. We use it as a special noun for the whole wrapping up a Sinterklaas gift in the most ridiculous, complicated and/or hilarious way possible. We borrowed the word from the French, so we pronounce it something like ‘surpreeese’ and not in the English way. When we are suprised by something we use a total different word: verrassing!

So here we are, a bunch of mainly protestant and secular people having a tradition of remembering Saint Nicholas of Myra (270-343) with dressed up Sinterklazen and Zwarte Pieten, presents in ‘surprises’ and lots of chocolat, speculaas and pepernoten. Who else in the world does that?

Good and bad Sinterklaas-memories 
To be honest, I have never been very fond of all those dressed up men and women. To me as a child they were far too loud and they kept throwing sweets at me that almost always were picked up by other kids before I could. I did not understand the fun of grown ups dressing up to tease and scare children. And there is another part about Sinterklaas that bothers me: the greediness that comes with the toy-store catalogues.

But then there were the ‘surprises’ and poems. How I loved that. I have great memories of my mom laughing so hard because of the hideous doll with pink underwear I made here with a poem explaining the whole thing. Or the mystery box I made for a class mate that was so ingenious she never could find here present in it. And then the 26 verse poem I made for my geography teacher in high school. Most of all I remember how much fun we had, how good it was to be together. All my good memories of Sinterklaas include ‘surprises’ and poems.

Why I love ‘surprises’
So here is why I love ‘surprises’ so much: first of all there is the notion of randomness. By ‘drawing straws’ (pulling names) it is decided who you are going to give a gift in a ‘surprise’. If you are lucky it is someone you do not know well: this is your change to get to know this persoon better! But if you are lucky you draw someone you don’t like: this is the time to change your mind about him or her or – if you want – it is the ultimate, sophisticated payback-time. And if you are very lucky you end up with someone you actually know very well: this is the moment you were waiting for. Now you can make the best ‘surprise’ ever and tease your beloved friend or family-member in an honourable manner.

Secondly a ‘surprise’ is all about creativity and that is exactly why I loved it so much. This was my chance to make something from scratch that actually was appreciated. Weeks of thinking and then waiting to the last minute to make it. The giggles beforehand, the secrets that were everywhere; it made it all so exciting and fun. I also loved making endless poems that made fun of some special habbits or qualities of the other person. The thing is; though you made fun of people (and vice versa), there was always love and respect in it. You felt seen and appreciated and that to me is far more important then dressed up people, sweets and presents.

Finally, making ‘surprises’ is not so much about the present. It is about giving and receiving. About caring and appreciating the other person. It is about fun and exhilaration. It is about the art of giving! And that’s why I love this tradition!

The wolf that reminded me of all this
So my friend Kristin reminded me of al that when she posted pictures at Facebook of the monstrous wolf her son and husband were making together. I think it’s amazing! So I got her permission to share this awesome ‘surprise’ at BusyBeezzz. Because in the end, this is also what BusyBeezzz is all about: being creative, making something from scratch, recycling materials, working together and having fun. So thank you guys for sharing this scary creature with the world!

surprise sinterklaas wolf

PS Because Kristin is from the USA originally and because we also have other Englis-speaking followers (and Dutch know English anyhow) I decided to write in Englisf. Forgive me if I made mistakes here and there.



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