on saturday after enjoying a lekker lunch of fried fish and french fries (or dutch fries, i guess), we walked to the train station nearby to enjoy a dutch christmas tradition: "intocht."
intocht is the incoming of sinterklaas and his helper "zwarte piet" (lit: black peter). sinterklaas is the original santa claus, but instead of living at the north pole with a bunch of elves and reindeer, he instead lives in spain with his helper, black peter. he comes to the netherlands on a boat and on 5 december (his birthday) he leaves goodies in the shoes of all the good little boys and girls. intocht happens in every village across the netherlands, but the big official one is on 5 december. if you've been bad this year, then sinterklaas will take you back to madrid with him. (on a dreary day like today with less then 8 hours of daylight, madrid sounds glorious. but to dutch boys and girls, it's actually a scary thing.)
our intocht was pretty small and gezellig. we got to the station about a half hour before sinterklaas arrived to make sure we got a good spot to view the festivities. (in hengelo he comes on a train, since there are no ports here for his boat to dock in.) all the little ones were dressed up like black peter, which would have been cute had it not been so offensive and politically incorrect: they all had black face paint on. apparently there's some confusion about black peter, whether he's black because he's a moor that comes from spain, or if he's black because he's actually a chimney sweep. either way, it's really awful to see all these people dressing up with black face paint. a strange practice for a country that's otherwise so liberal and openminded.
but anyway, we waited around taking pictures of the itty bitties all dressed up, and listened to a marching band play christmas songs. (a funny note about our marching band here: hengelo is a small, backwoods town, and so the musicians here aren't the most outstanding: as the band director was starting a song, one of the tuba players in the back wasn't ready. so he quick grabbed his tuba, but as he was picking it up, he dropped his hat. so now he has to pick up his hat and put it on. by the time he fixed himself up, the song was almost over. how quaint and funny!) we didn't recognize any of the tunes, but all the wee ones knew all the words. in fact, in order to get presents from sinterklaas you have to sing songs as loud as you can. that part was actually really cute and sweet. i need to learn these songs so i can sing along next year!
sinterklaas arrived a little past 2 pm on his giant white stallion, amerigo, and was the main attraction in a parade that wound through the busy streets of hengelo. there were close to 200 black peters handing out candy and cookies to the children, and the marching band led the way playing christmas songs. now he "lives" in the little house attached to the catholic church around the corner from our house. i don't know if you can visit him there or not, but i'll find out and let you all know.
i'd like to point out with these pictures that they were all taken at about 2 pm... notice how low the sun is and how long the shadows are. hard to believe that we're still one month away from the solstice.
on another note, we still don't have internet at home, but our stuff arrived last night -- my spice rack, our bed, my massage table, our winter coats, etc. hooray!