Friday, December 22, 2006

A Dutch Christmas in Belleville

A Dutch Christmas in Belleville

Christmas has been celebrated in Belleville, the Village of Second River, for 331 years. Only a handful of other places in America can boast of more. The village was, of course, settled by the Dutch so their holiday celebrations were a continuation of those they remembered in Holland. Three centuries ago the holiday season began on December 5th.

December 5th was St. Nicholas Eve, the time for presents and the beginning of a month-long holiday season. All youngsters eagerly waited the coming of Sinterklaas who would arrive in the harbor in a great sailing ship richly laden with gifts and goodies .... and a switch. It was believed by all Dutch children that Sinterklaas was the Bishop of Spain who brought with him a magical flying horse which he needed in order to visit all in a single night. He did have some help, a small Moorish fellow known as ‘Black Pete’ who was his elf. Indeed, Sinterklaas is always seen with the great white flying steed and Black Pete.

Instead of leaving cookies and milk, as might be done today, children left their shoes outside the door filled with tasty hay for the magic horse. They all knew this happy verse by heart:

Look, yonder comes the schooner,
All the way from Spain.
There stands good St. Nicholas,
Coming back again.
Frisking up and down the deck,
See his horsie go !
How prettily the pennants
Flutter to and fro !
Black Pete, he smiles upon us,
With gifts his bags are rich,
Who’s good, shall have some goodies,
Who’s naughty, gets a switch !

Christmas Day, December 25th , was a solemn religious holiday, very un-like today. However, the holiday season did not end then but continued on until Twelfth Night Eve on January 5th. Here was a day of exuberant merrymaking ! The Dutch settlers of Second River were hard working pioneers, but surely they did enjoy merrymaking and they enjoyed their winter holidays at least as much as we.

Vrolijk Kerstfeest !