Remembering Christmases in the Netherlands |

Remembering Christmases in the Netherlands

Pauline van Leeuwen
Genoa resident

Every year, I struggle with the commercial happenings surrounding Christmas. Advertisements and displays of Christmas items have grown so out of proportion that it is almost an insult to individuals who want to understand the true meaning of Christmas to be a spiritual experience and therefore cannot accept this display of intrusion.

Aren’t we celebrating the birth of light coming to each one of us, which guides us in the right direction, to share and care for and with one another to make life a joyful experience? Or do we only want to get too many material goods?

Some 1,600 years ago, a bishop in the city of Myra in Turkey took the initiative to protect some of its citizens from being used and abused, especially young girls, and started giving them refuge and attention to help protect them from bad influences. To even show his care more, he would give them gifts on the day of his birthday every year. The specifics of this happening have become somewhat blurred, but the initial gift of giving was initiated by this bishop, and his name was St. Nicholas.

In our country, the Netherlands, we still observe his birthday, which is on Dec. 6. On the eve of his birthday, Dec. 5, we would put our shoe out by the fireplace with some water and a carrot for his horse. Because history has it that he would come all the way, via Spain, to bring us presents if we were good. During the course of time, the only way to be transported was probably by horse, and since Spain is closer to Turkey than the Netherlands, this was probably the route this celebration came into our country.

This has evolved into the exchange of gifts and writing poems to one another. This was always a lot of fun, and, yes, we would get carried away at times, trying to roast the person you picked.

Now we know Santa as a jolly old man in a red suit, and this is different in every country; you just have to look at the different costumes he wears and names he has been given: Father Christmas, Kris Kringle and Santa Claus just to name a few.

The birth of Christ is celebrated on Dec. 25, according to the liturgical calendar. I suppose at some time in history these two celebrations were found to be too close together and they slipped into being celebrated as one. So now we celebrate the birth of Christ with the gift of giving from St. Nicholas, on the same day.

Here come the merchants and their wares, and they see an opportunity to make some money. Every year, it seems to start a bit earlier. And, boy, do we get swept up by all the advertisements, decorations and gifts on sale to be given to our family and friends! We have Christmas parties all over the place, performances of different kinds, cards to be sent to all the people we care about and dinners at home to celebrate Christmas. This adds up to a magnanimous amount in monies.

Sometimes we forget what it is all about.

I happened to be born in an atmosphere of religious celebrations, and therefore, the choral groups, choirs and candles seem to be more conducive to my kind of reflecting on the true meaning of Christmas. I would love to go back to the simple gift exchange and poem-writing we did growing up on Dec 5 – 6, to keep it separated.

But I allow myself to be bothered by the commercial aspect of this season. I guess I have to work on getting that out of my system, which is not easy.

I reconcile, by just making a calendar for our family with pictures of the past year and all their birthdays and anniversary dates on it. And we invite ourselves to one of our children’s homes for dinner and buy them a family gift they all can enjoy. We attend a meaningful service somewhere and cuddle up by the fire listening to some good music that we learned to enjoy and grew up with.

And we reflect on the light that came to us 2,000 years ago, realizing that God is created by all the GOOD in people. Our inspiration, our hope …