It's time for Sinterklaas!
If you've read the first couple of chapters of Sammy Keyes and the Power of Justice Jack, you'll know what this means.
Well, you'll know what this means Van Draanen style. For civilized Dutch folks it's a much tamer affair.
Basically, Sinterklaas is the Dutch version of Santa Claus. Only he rides a horse. And his hat is way cooler than Santa's. And he comes early in December. And visits five times, not just one.
Oh, and forget the whole coming down the chimney thing. Sinterklaas don't need no stinkin' chimney. Sinterklaas knows how to deliver spice cookies through the roof.
As Billy Pratt would say, The dude is awesome!
When I was growing up, Sinterklaas and his magic white horse (and cool hat) got all the credit. But the Royal Dutch Bakers for Sinterklaas are actually the ones who do all the work.
As fate would have it, one of those Royal Bakers was (shhhh) was my mom.
Yes, my mother had the recipe for the magic pepernoten that clatter through the ceiling / roof and onto the floor. She was a very busy baker, too, managing to make up to three thousand pepernoten in a few days, all while the kids were at school.
Through this tradition, Mom filled my childhood Decembers with happy squeals and anticipation and fun. And since Sinterklaas kept a rather irregular schedule (depending on whether it was a school night or Scout meeting night, or whatever), peppernoten might fall on December 4th. Or 5th. Or (come on already!) 6th.
Civilized Dutch stick to the 5th, but, well, we Van Draanens don't fit that mold, and the not knowing when pepernoten might come crashing down around us was half of the fun.
When I had children of my own, I, too, was recruited to become a baker for Sinterklaas. And although I cannot call myself a Royal Baker or boast 3,000 cookies in any season (or maybe, even, total), I have for many years baked lots of little cookies during the early days of December. And each time I did, I thought about my mom. About the dough sticking in her palms, about her airing out the house before school so we children wouldn't detect the sweet spicy smell of pepernoten baking. About how much time and effort she put into the tradition and the holiday. About how much I loved her for the joy it brought to me as a child.
What I haven't shared on this blog (because it's personal and hard and just...sad), is that my mother is in the last stages of life. She's down to 70 pounds and in a memory care facility. (Please, no sympathy comments, okay?) I visit her a lot. (I'm there so much many of the residents think I work there.)
Some days--some visits--are better than others. Today's was really nice. I talked with her about Sinterklaas and pepernoten and how joyful she'd made this time of year for us when we were growing up. I spoke to her in the best Dutch I know (and she corrected me, as is her way), and she smiled more than usual and remembered along with me about the baking and the hiding and the magic.
It was obvious that me remembering and appreciating everything she'd done made her happy. Which made me happy, too. Mom may be retired from the workforce, but she will always love--and be loved for--having served as a Royal Dutch Baker for Sinterklaas.
So, happy Sinterklaas to you Dutch. And to you non-Dutch, read the first 2 chapters of Justice Jack. You'll wish you were.