Bijna Kerst

Almost Christmas. Once it turned December (yesterday) it really hit me that time has flown. As I say to myself every single day, thank God I have another semester here. I’m going to list a few highlights (or exciting things at least, some are bad) that made this week different from the past few. Feeling a little repetitive, but hey, this is normal life for me now!
1. I played tour guide (yet again) with Ryann, my friend from lower school (and still friend today)
2. I saw a woman laying in the street that was hit by a Vespa (ugh!)
3. I almost had a complete conversation in Dutch with an employee at a store until I caved and had to ask what her last sentence meant (another ugh!)
4. Christmas shopping is one of the most fun things to do in Amsterdam
5. My professor played us Dutch rap in our culture class and it was a lot cooler sounding than American rap
6. My first Thanksgiving not at home (and not in America) proved to be actually quite sad, and I realized the gift that is being with your family on holidays

So yes, Ryann came to visit me from Galway, Ireland from Tuesday until Friday of last week (Sra. Wheeler, she says hi!) I quite liked having a visitor during the week, as we were more low-key but still got out around the city. I let her explore on her own while I went to a lab on Thanksgiving, but I was also happy to take a break and see the Stedelijk museum, the modern art museum which I hadn’t seen yet. My Thanksgiving would have been even more depressing if she wasn’t here as my roommate was in London with some of her family. A few kids in my building tried to get a meal together but couldn’t (none of us have ovens), so Ryann and I opted for Kraft mac and cheese from the American food store (I hadn’t been there before!), added some bacon, I made an autumn salad, and we watched Louie on Netflix while we ate. Nat (not even American) was the first to tell me Happy Thanksgiving that day. I guess I’m just not very festive. It was definitely hard to see people with their families and friends on Facebook and Instagram, and it really made me miss home. It only took a few seconds for me to realize that not only do I have an incredible thing going for me here, I’ll be home before I know it and for longer.

Ryann and I on a canal, so classy!

Ryann and I on a canal, so classy!



The Vespa incident was pretty traumatic; I didn’t see it happen, but I saw a bike, an old woman on her back, and a guilty Vespa driver walking from a few yards ahead of her. Those Vespas man, ALWAYS in the way. About 10 people on bikes stopped to help and it gave me goosebumps. I wanted to stop but realized the communication barrier would be troublesome and I didn’t even see the accident happen, so I continued on.  You never actually see the accidents (bikes hit by trams, buses hitting trams, cars hitting bikes, bikes hitting people) but they definitely have to be happening a lot. Just makes me more cautious, although I did manage to put gloves on while biking up a hill this evening…

I love being around the city during this time when there are so many lights and shoppers and things to see. I have found gifts for all of my family members from some of my favorite places, but I know I can find more. Getting them home will be difficult, but I will have to figure it out. Everyone is so happy and cozy. My friends and I are going to have a holiday party sometime next week. Luckily a few of my friends that are only here for the first semester will actually still be here when I come back in January, so goodbyes aren’t totally necessary yet. Callum’s birthday party was on Friday, and it just reminded me how close our building has become, and how nice it is to see everyone together (when I’m not experimenting and analyzing crop production per capita in China for the future…)

De Bijnkorf for the holidays

De Bijenkorf for the holidays

Happy Birthday Callum!

Happy Birthday Callum!

I’ll be headed to Prague on Thursday and it’s supposed to snow there. I’ve made a list of what I want to do and couldn’t be more excited. Puppets are big there, and so are other magical things. But I’ll leave all of that for my next entry. Stay tuned!

A Dutch Semi-Christmas

Sinterklaas came this past Sunday, which signifies the start of the holiday season in Amsterdam. He brought along his helpers, Zwarte Piet (still don’t know if they are supposed to be one single entity or multiple? Either way they are frightening), and plenty of cookies. I’m adding my own pictures for this post, but getting information from my favorite cultural website, My favorite fact, perhaps, is that if you’re bad, supposedly Sinteklaas (or Zwarte Piet, who is sometimes known for beating children) will put you in a bag and take you back to Spain with him. Enjoy, and try not to judge. Watch the video as well!

Who is Sinterklaas? Sinterklaas, also known as Sint Nicolaas, is a traditional Dutch figure based on the Catholic Saint Nicholas who was a Greek bishop in the third century. He is the patron saint of children, sailors, travelers, thieves, virgins, prostitutes and … the city of Amsterdam! Sint Nicolaas is a white-bearded man who wears red and white bishop’s garb and holds a fancy gold staff. Unlike Santa Claus, Sinterklaas is not fat and jolly, rather he is a tall dignified gentleman who decides which children were naughty or nice in the past year. Sinterklaas arrives in the Netherlands in mid-November on a boat from Spain. After disembarking on Dutch soil he hops on his white horse, Amerigo, and makes his appearance in streets, schools and hospitals around the country. As mentioned above, Sinterklaas arrives in the Netherlands each year in mid-November by steamboat from Spain. It isn’t known exactly why he lives in Spain, but theories abound. Perhaps it is because the Catholic Saint Nicolas was buried in Spain or Italy, or perhaps it is because he brings Spanish oranges as gifts. Maybe he just prefers the sunny weather there. It is said that the Sint travels to the Netherlands on a steamboat because he is the patron saint of sailors. The steamboat was also an amazing new technology when many modern Sinterklaas songs and poems were written. In the Middle Ages, Sinterklaas was a holiday for Dutch school children to honor Saint Nicolaas and over time it also became a village festival. The holiday was both an opportunity to give aid to the poor as well as a time for wild revelry, similar to Carnival.

Sinterklaas. He seemed like a nice guy!

Sinterklaas. He seemed like a nice guy!

Who is Zwarte Piet? Zwarte Piet (or Black Peter, plural Zwarte Pieten) is a helper of Sinterklaas, somewhat like Santa’s elves. These colorfully dressed helpers follow Sinterklaas and assist him with distributing candy and gifts while entertaining children with silly antics. The Zwarte Pieten carry a chimney sweep’s broom which is used to spank naughty children as well as a big sack used to ferry the worst brats back to Spain. Newcomers to the Netherlands might be shocked by the appearance of people dressed in blackface with dark curly wigs and clownish outfits. Some find it racist and offensive but the liberal Dutch mostly view it as a charming and harmless tradition. There are various explanations for the origins of these helpers. Some say they symbolize a freed slave boy who became a grateful servant to Saint Nicolaas. Others believe the Pieten are simply Moors from Spain. In newer versions of the story, the Zwarte Pieten are black because they are covered in soot from climbing down chimneys to deliver gifts. Similar to the Smurfs, there is a Piet for every function. Some specialize in entertaining children, others in climbing down chimneys and a few are skilled navigators for the boat trip from Spain.


Zwarte Pieten on the biggest department store in Amsterdam...

Zwarte Pieten on the biggest department store in Amsterdam…