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White Beards and Presents

One of the nice things of being in an international (voyage) crew and the watch system is that there is plenty of time to chat about different countries and different habits and customs.

With a significant number of the crew being Dutch and two weeks to go till December 5th, the day when an white bearded man and his assistants drop presents into (sweet) children’s’ shoes, Sinterklaas obviously came up as one of the subjects during one of the watches.

As it was pitch black outside and there was not much to do, we decided to use the whiteboard in the deckhouse to do some Sinterklaas analysis. It turned out that Zwarte Piet (who increasingly has multiple colors in the Netherlands) is called Knecht Ruprecht in German and in Switzerland goes by the name of Schmutzli (after his dirty and filthy looks).

In both countries they are kind of scary men carrying a twig bundle to spank naughty children (this practice was abandoned in the Netherlands some time ago). Knecht Ruprecht and Schmutzli are not as bad though as in the Czech Republic, where the assistant turns out to be the Devil himself! We prefer the (multi ethnic) Elves of Santa Claus or Father Christmas…

The Dutch Sinterklaas is the only one who lives in Spain; in Germany Nikolaus lives in Norway, close to Santa Claus who lives at the North Pole. The Swiss Sanmichlaus lives in The Black Forest and the Czech Nikolaus turns out to be homeless.

For means of transportation, the Dutch and Belgian Sinterklaas is the only one who uses a boat and a horse. The Swiss one travels on a donkey and in Germany he travels on a sleigh pulled by reindeer, like Santa Claus does. The main conclusions from our science project: first, the names Sinterklaas, Nikolaus, Sanmichlaus and Santa Klaus are all variations of the name Nicolas, the root version of our (white bearded) skipper’s name Klaas; second, if there is a friendly man with a white beard named Klaas around on 5th, 6th or 25th of December and you have been good, there is likely to be presents in store…

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