Tomorrow, the Dutch will be celebrating all over the country. In Belgium, the festivities will begin a day later. But both countries are celebrating the same holiday: Sinterklaas. The holiday celebrates the day before (in Belguim’s case, the day of) the anniversary of Saint Nicolaas’ naming.
The adult way to celebrate is to have a pakjes avond (gifts night). Usually, you are given the name of a person to purchase a gift for. However, nothing in the Netherlands is ever that simple.
The gift is usually something small, inexpensive, and silly and involves more than just wrapping the item and handing it over. Sometimes packaging gets creative. My husband once bought a gift for a friend who was into photography. The gift itself was a photo album which he built a casing for in the shape of a camera using toilet paper rolls and tape. Another reveler constructed an alarm clock out of cardboard in which to hide the gift of an alarm. The recipient of this particular present was known for his/her inability to be on time.
That’s all well and good, but the big deal is the poem (gedicht). Yes, the poem. Each gift is accompanied by a funny poem about the person who is to receive the gift. Usually the poem pokes a bit of fun at the person, relays events in their lives, hints their relationship to the giver, and gives clues as to what the gift might be. The receiver then tries to guess what the gift is before opening it. And, yes, your poem must rhyme. The typical rhyming scheme of a Sinterklaas poem is A, A, B, B. For example:
The last words of the first two lines rhyme (A, A) and the last words in the last two lines rhyme with each other (B, B). To ensure that your poem has the same flow when read by others (your giftee must read your poem aloud before opening the cadeau), make sure you check your meter. Clapping syllables can help. There are several different rhythms you can incorporate using accented and non-accented beats. This one uses (very loosely) iambic pentameter.
The example above is actually a portion of the poem I wrote for my ‘Secret Sinterklaas’ this year. I opted not to get creative with the wrapping, though I do plan to do something fun with the way I ‘package’ the poem. It took me enough time to do the poem (lucky for me, I got to write it in English) and I’d prefer not to make things any harder on myself than I have to! If you’re not a Shakespeare but would still like to participate in this Dutch tradition, there are cheats in the form of Sinterklaas poem generators (in Dutch).
So grab your pen or keyboard and get writing. You don’t have much time left!
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