Santa Claus visits Istanbul and celebrates birthday at consulate

Santa Claus visits Istanbul and celebrates birthday at consulate

Wilco van Herpen ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Santa Claus visits Istanbul and celebrates birthday at consulate

At the end of the third week of November, Sinterklaas’ arrival is celebrated throughout Holland. Wilco van Herpen and his daughter Şila are seen at the Dutch Consulate in Istanbul to welcome Sinterklaas.

2012 will be a very exciting and busy year for Turkish and Dutch people. We will celebrate the 400-year-old relationship between Turkey and Holland. In 1612 Cornelis Haga became the first ambassador of the Dutch Republic to the Ottoman Empire. Such a long relationship has to be celebrated, and in Holland and Turkey people are working extremely hard to make 2012 an unforgettable year.

It is December, and for Dutch children this is a very exciting month. Children anxiously await Dec. 5 because that is the day Sinterklaas celebrates his birthday. He came all the way from Spain by boat just to give the children in Holland some presents. But why would I write about such a typical Dutch tradition and a Spanish saint? Because there is a relationship between Sinterklaas and Turkey.

Sinterklaas, or St. Nicholas, lived in Turkey from 270 until 343. He was a respected bishop in Myra, a place near Antalya. Sinterklaas is a man after my own heart. Indeed, what you can say about him is Sinterklaas was a kind of human rights activist. During the time Sinterklaas was a bishop in Myra he saved the lives of a lot of people. One day a butcher killed three children; he cut the children in pieces and put them in a brine tank. Nicholas heard about it, went to the butcher’s place and brought the children back to life. It was after saving the lives of those three little children that Sinterklaas became the patron saint of children.

Then there is the legend of how he saved three young girls from becoming prostitutes. Three nights in a row he went to the girls’ houses and threw a bag of gold, as a dowry, through each of their windows. By doing this he prevented them from having to become prostitutes. Since that day, Nicholas became the patron saint of both women and prostitutes. It explains why children put their shoes in front of the fireplace during the night for Sinterklaas to leave them some presents.

It all starts at the end of November when Sinterklaas arrives in Holland. Children look forward to the return of the “Sint” for months. His arrival is celebrated throughout the country. At the end of the third week of November Sinterklaas arrives by boat from Spain. Together with his servants they arrive in the harbor and the children on the quay sing special Sinterklaas songs to honor the arrival of the Sint as the servants, or “Pieten” as we call them, dance, do acrobatic tricks and give the children candy. That evening children put their shoes in front of the fireplace hoping that Sint will give them a present.

Sinterklaas visits Istanbul

Last Saturday, Sint and his Pieten arrived in Istanbul. The place where the children welcomed them was the Dutch Consulate. The children all sang together, one Sinterklaas song after another. Sint was waving at the children and slowly made his way to the big reception salon. There the Consul General Onno Kervers welcomed the Sint.

They performed special dances and sang Sinterklaas songs, and the Zwarte Pieten distributed handfuls of sweets. Being so close to Sinterklaas was definitely the highlight for a lot of children. Şira, my daughter, wanted to sit on the lap of Sinterklaas and patiently waited for the right moment. There she sat proudly, smiling at me while I took a couple of pictures. But she could not enjoy the moment too long since a lot of children also wanted to do the same as Şira did and, I can tell you, there were a lot of children. For the Sint the time had come to leave again; for the children, it was time to collect their presents.

That evening Şira wanted to put her shoe in front of the fireplace. She, being clever, chose the biggest shoe she had and then walked to the kitchen. There she took a carrot for the horse, brought it to her shoe and then told me to find a CD with Sinterklaas music so we could sing her favorite Sinterklaas songs. I am proud of my girl because she is just three years old and already speaks Turkish and understands Dutch very well, but unfortunately does not speak “my” language yet.

Nevertheless, singing Sinterklaas songs is no problem for her, and from the bottom of her heart she sang all the songs. Then it was time for her to go to bed. “Papa, do you think he will come tonight?” she asked me. And when I told her I was sure he would find some time to visit our house she gave me another kiss, closed her eyes and fell directly asleep. It had been an exciting day for her.