Arrival by boat at New Westminster
Dutch stores increasingly promote their own Sinterklaas events

NEW WESTMINSTER, British Columbia - Children in the Netherlands every year lustily sing "Zie ginds komt de stoomboot uit Spanje weer aan..." (See there the steamship from Spain is coming agan...) At the Westminster Quay Public Market, their Dutch Canadian cousins actually see the boat moor at the Quay, where Sinterklaas and his party of Black Pieters step ashore. The early December public welcome is the only remaining event in North America, which has Sinterklaas arrive aboard a real ship.

Among the Sinterklaas Welkom onlookers now are parents who in 1985 as children were present for the first arrival. The event remains a top attraction for the public market on the Fraser River bank.

Right from the start 19 years ago, local officials, MPs, MLAs, the Mayor and sometimes all councilors (and even a Premier), have been on hand to welcome the Spanish bishop. In particular councillor Casey Cook, who fondly remembers Sinterklaas calling on his hometown The Hague when he was a boy, has been there as a dignitary for years. One year he remarked that none in the crowd of onlookers seemed more excited than the grandparents.

Dutch 'stores'
Sinterklaas celebrations also rated very high on the list of traditions taken along to the New World by colonial Dutch settlers and immigrants. The benevolent bishop was revered as much by the 18th century Dutch colonial community in New York as he is among today's Dutch immigrants, a fact which contributes as well to the ongoing popularity of many imported items ranging from pepernoten to chocolate letters.

The wide-spread popularity in the Netherlands of the December 5 Sinterklaas event in the years since the bleak World War II, also has influenced the way Dutch immigrants in North America observe and celebrate it. New arrivals from the Netherlands often lament they miss their homeland the most during the Sinterklaas season which in the Netherlands starts midway November.

In North America, Dutch delicatessen outlets now are the greatest boosters of Sinterklaas events. Many stores put on special activities for children. Ottawa area Dutch Groceries & Imports started the store's annual event in 1968 while New Westminster's Holland Shopping Centre joined the Westminster Quay Sinterklaas Welkom event when it was first launched. The store's owners since then largely have taken on the responsibility for organizing it, pressing into service up to twelve Black Peters some years. A colouring contest receives good participation.

Places such as Michigan's Holland, Washington's Lynden, Iowa's Pella, and Orange City have turned Sinterklaas into a town-wide event, which in some locations includes a parade.

First published in The Windmill Herald, used with permission.

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