My gran, who sadly passed away last year, was Dutch by birth. One of the many great legacies she left was that of the traditional winter celebration of Sinterklaas.
It’s a simple concept. The whole family gets together and eats a lot of food (sort of like Christmas), and then when the time is right “Black Peter” (St. Nicholas’ helper) delivers a bag of letters to the door. So basically one of the fitter adults sprints to the top of the complex and drops a sack with security – ha ha.
Each letter contains a rhyme or poem celebrating a member of the family, with a clue to where their gift is hidden (as the story goes, hidden by “Black Peter”). In our family, gifts are kept small and very practical, and the focus is more on the poems themselves.
Needless to say the kids go absolutely crazy for the hidden gifts bit. They position themselves, spring-loaded, in front of whichever family member is reading their poem and zip off into the house to collect the prize when the clue is divulged. It’s great fun and gives us as parents and grandparents an enormous amount of joy.
This year, for the first time ever, I helped my mom and aunt write poems for the family, and we hosted Sinterklaas at our place. It was not only a lot of fun writing poems for the most important people in my life, but a very humbling, special experience too.
The fact is that we (or at least people like me – neo-European white South Africans) seldom make an effort to celebrate our families. So much that we do as families is muted and methodical, leaving very little space for celebration. The tradition of Sinterklaas in our family has forced us to not only think of why everyone is special and significant, but publicly acknowledge and celebrate it. It’s critically important to what makes our family work.
I’m incredibly grateful for my gran and her legacy, and that now that I’m all grown up I get to facilitate it and pass it on to my kids. I’d strongly recommend that you find a holiday or celebration to do the same, or incorporate it into something like Easter or Christmas.
Life’s too short not to.