Foreign exchange students shed light on nontraditional holidays

Every year around Christmas time, people from all around the world celebrate their culture through different traditions. Foreign exchange student Sophie Duijn from the Netherlands celebrates Sinterklaas.

“Sinterklaas comes from Spain with Black Pete on a boat to the Netherlands in the middle of November and there’s a parade,” Duijn said. “The kids can put their shoe by the door or by the fireplace and they sing a song and there will be a present in the shoes in the morning.”

Similar to the United States traditions of children getting coal instead of presents when they have been naughty, the Netherlands have their own punishment for kids who have misbehaved.

“If you’re a bad kid, Sinterklaas will put you in a sack and carry you back to Spain,” Duijn said.

In comparison, naughty children getting coal is a lot nicer than being smuggled in a sack to Spain.

“That’s not really a punishment,” Duijn said. “It’s just weird.”

December 5 is the last day that Sinterklaas is celebrated in the Netherlands, so typically that’s when children get the biggest presents.

“This one time I got this huge world map,” Duijn said.

With all traditions comes controversy in one form or another. In the Netherlands, their traditional story says that Sinterklaas has a black-faced companion with big red lips and gold earrings. There have been many protests to try and rid the country of the tradition.

“A lot of people think that Black Pete is a racist tradition,” Duijn said. “Some people think that he’s black because of the chimney soot and others think he’s black because of slavery.”

Duijn isn’t the only one who has come to America with their own traditions. Emma Siegenthaler from Switzerland has many traditions of her own.

“In my neighborhood, we have this donkey that we go get and we walk two hours up this mountain,” Siegenthaler said. “then we walk back down two hours back to our neighborhood and we spend Saint Nicolas with this donkey.”

Just like in the U.S., Christmas songs seem omnipresent.

“We sing traditional Christmas music around the Christmas tree,” Siegenthaler said. “Then the younger kids go in front of the tree and sing a song they learned in school.

Both Siegenthaler and Duijn have memories that they can look back on fondly. Siegenthaler remembers lighting candles on their Christmas tree each year. Duijn remembers many things from her Sinterklaas.

“Most of the time we will have dinner and all of the sudden we hear a knock on the door and there will be a note to go to the shed for presents,” Duijn said. “Then we get a letter saying to go to the attic and then there’d be another letter saying to go back to the shed and there would be presents!”

Eventually, Duijn had to face the hard truth about Sinterklaas.

“My stupid sister told me that Sinterklaas wasn’t real,” Duijn said. “I ran to my dad and he got really mad at her. She also told my neighbor.”

Duijn is surprised but happy about how big our celebrations are here in the US.

“I like all of the lights outside,” Duijn said. “It seems like once you get older it’s more about the people and your family and friends.”



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