Sunday, 30 November 2008

Sandy Claws

"It doesn't matter WHO he is, just tell him you've been good, alright? That ring looks sharp"

Pity, my friends, the confusion of the children of Belgium around this time of year, when not one, but two formidable white bearded gentlemen in red costumes are bandied around to threaten them to behave.

Yes, in Belgium, in defiance of their common origins, "Saint Nicolas" and "Père Noël are treated as two entirely different red-garbed benefactors, who just happen to look similar and rock up at the same time of year.

I have a LOT to say about this, it makes my brain melt (a whole new festival at which I have to buy my children presents? From the same guy in a red suit but under another name?), so will almost certainly return to the topic this week in the run up to 6 December, but for today, I thought I would assist anyone with bearded gift-giver confusion with my handy cut out and keep guide. David Sedaris does it better than I could though.

What are you wearing?

a) I am wearing this lovely red bishop's dress with white underskirt. I have a nice red pointy hat with a cross on it, and a curly ended stick, white gloves, and a big fuck off red ring. What I'm trying to convey with this outfit is do NOT fuck with me. I see you when you are sleeping AND when you are awake. I know if you've been bad or good and I have a big stick.

b) A cosy red knitted suit with cotton wool trim. Very cuddly! Hop up here on my knee and stroke it.

How do you get around?

a) On a white horse. Or sometimes a donkey. Accompanied by various accolytes, sometimes jingling their chains or cracking whips at passing children. You might get an orange thrown at your head if you're really lucky.

b) In a sleigh pulled by reindeer, yo ho ho.

Where do you live?

a) In Spain. That's where I get the oranges from.
b) In Lapland of course! That's where the reindeer are happiest.

Christ to the fuck - who or WHAT is that next to you?

a) Who, him?

That's the Père Fouettard (literally, whipping father). Or Black Pete. His job is to whip bad children. Or, alternatively, to put them in a sack and kick them to Spain. Or hit them with a stick. Whatever. It depends on his mood. Why is he blacked up like that? Oh, that's the soot from the chimney. Possibly. Or not. He might be a moorish slave, but generally we try and skirt around that these days.

b) Just a minimum wage elf. No need to be alarmed.

What do you give good children?

a) I put nuts and stuff in their shoes. Speculoos, chocolate money, oranges. Maybe a little coal.

b) Oh, you know, Nintendo, Littlest Pet Shop, whatever.

And how about bad ones?

a) See above. I get Père Fouettard to put them in a sack and kick them to Spain. Or in other places, I might beat them myself, or put them in a sack and drown them in the river. If I am in a good mood I might just give them coal. Or a stick. Whatever. You've got to use your instincts in this game.

b) There are no bad children!

Anything else I should know?

a) I collect children's dummies from them and put them in giant Nutella pots

b) I was only joking about sitting on my knee.

Mostly (a)s - Probably St Nicolas. Approach with caution. Make it clear that you have been VERY good before engaging in dialogue.

Mostly (b)s - Probably Father Christmas. Safe to approach unless in Selfridges.


Potty Mummy said...

Do not get me started on Zwarte Piet. Married to a Dutchman, my children get the double whammy too, and every year as they sit and watch the shennanigans on the internet in Dutch I bite my tongue to stop myself shouting out: !But he's blacked up! What part of that is relevant? It's just wrong wrong wrong! I don't care if it's a tradition! So was Slavery!' And anything else followed up by an exclamation mark!!!!

Of course the famously even-handed and tolerant Dutch (ha!) just look pityingly at me and tell me I'm not getting into the spirit of the thing... At which point I ask them if they would feel just as comfortable discussing this if I was from Surinam, Morrocco etc (as many of their immigrants are), and the whole sad episode and shouting (from me) starts over again...

I could post about this. But I have dutch relatives, so sorry Jaywalker, you're it...

Waffle said...

I know, PM, I know. So surreal to be sitting in office of a global law firm with this going on around me. I got into terrible trouble with a Dutch colleague asking about this last year - she kept saying "He's just DIRTY WITH SOOT. It's a NICE tradition". Er, no?

Emerging Writer said...

I always quite liked the idea of being put in a sack and sent to Spain. Especially in December. They didn't mention the hitting bit that I remember.
I like the tradition where a gloved hand can appear around a door and chuck a handful of those small speculoos dingetjes.

Pochyemu said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
katyboo1 said...

I would have a problem with this. My children wouldn't. They wouldn't care what you looked like if they could lie convincingly enough to you to get you to hand over presents.
I shall not be mentioning it to them.

Fat Controller said...

So do the major department stores have both figures installed simultaneously or do they work alternate shifts?

Red Shoes said...

Wow. I have questions.

1. Why is Christmas so scary in Belgium?! St Nicolas seems like a cross between a really angry Pope and a ... eh, I don't know... an abusive, alcoholic father? Amazing


3. What's a speculoo?

4. Spain?? Really?? I thought they were nice in Spain. Wow.

5. What's a dummy and why collect it in a Nutella pot? Please tell me that it isn't a child's body part because with that scary assed St. Nicholas, I wouldn't be surprised...

I feel traumatized and might want to skip Chistmas after this post. Amazing. Really. Yikes.

Waffle said...

Red Shoes
Some of your questions are too hard. But
dummy = pacifier
speculoos = spicy biscuit.
nutella = no idea. possibly not traditional.
You don't have to skip Christmas - just make veeery sure you're nowhere near Belgium next Saturday. Yikes!

Fat Controller - I think they stick with St Nicolas - abusive father/pope figures are more conducive to retail, apparently.

karen said...

Here in Australia we just get the jolly fat guy in the red suit, although these days he's likely to turn up in shorts for the Southern Hemisphere leg of the journey, and swap the reindeers for white boomers (kangaroos) or a ute. And scare children with the thought that some stranger is going to break into their house on Christmas eve because most of us don't have chimneys. No sooty offsiders with sacks here, thank goodness. Plenty of Santa photos with small crying children though, because we drum 'stranger danger' into them for the rest of the year, and then hand them over to some bloke in the shopping centre and expect them to smile (and preferably not wee on him).

Anonymous said...

Ahhh yes, it is close to time to take my daughters to the store and let them cry on Santa's lap again. Little one hasn't had the pleasure yet, as we didn't get around to it last year.
After reading this, I'm more appreciative of our commercialized holiday!
tiodally! (wv)

Waffle said...

Karen/Ptooie - I love those wailing children. There were lots for St Nicolas too, entirely appropriately. Lashes and Fingers seemed to have a very long and sombre conversation with him that I couldn't hear. When I asked them about it they said they couldn't rememember what about. Strange..

Red Shoes said...

Probably, because St. Nicolas told them Père Fouettard would kill them if they told.

Kate said...

When you celebrate Christmas with the CFO's family, do all of the gifts come from Père Noël? They do in my Frog's family. And I HATE IT. In the pre-child days, I used to want to punch my MIL when she didn't know who gifts came from and she would be all coy saying stuff like "Le pere noel m'a gatté!" I wanted to scream, "NO! Freaking Santa didn't bring you that cashmere sweater! I did!" Very childish. I know. But it seemed ridiculous when I was 28 and the youngest person there. Just the concept that all of those gifts magically appeared next to your shoes and that you didn't give anything to your loved ones nor did they give anything to you pisses me off. And that's why I was a brat the other day and told them on the phone that we had a gift for our little one from Santa and that I was sure she would be happy to get a gift from her grandparents. I don't care if we are going to be at their house and should probably play by their [stupid] rules. I am going to be a jerk and tag all of the gifts I give.

sorry for the rant. totally inappropriate. i should get my own (non-knitting) blog.

Zed said...


Go here.

Well done, Em!

Waffle said...

Red Shoes - yes, that was my best guess..

Kate - Yes. Yes indeed. And not at all inappropriate. Sometimes handy though when I have again bought them some truly awful piece of generic tat due to imagination failure.

Zed - Thank you so much for nominating me! xx

Waffle said...

Oh, and Emerging Writer - that gloved hand is too irremediably tainted for me. Yeesh! Go away with your teeny tiny biscuits AND your rod.

nappy valley girl said...

I'd love to know what would happen if your little tableau descended on my local department store in Brixton.....

Your children look adorable in the pic - both excited and worried....

Sarah said...

Too funny. I think all the Catholic countries have that holiday season identity crisis. You would think that in this politically correct age it would get toned down a little, but not so the Czech Republic they still whip women on Easter to ratchet up their fertility, I guess that's what happens when you superimpose Christian holidays over pagan rituals. A mixed bag, to say the least. About your knee, have they checked you for Lyme disease? It can present like that...just weird swelling with no injury...sorry if that's a ridiculous suggestion, I'm a relatively recent reader so I don't know the whole history. But I hope you feel better soon.

La Belette Rouge said...

You will find this post will bring you a lot of traffic. I wrote about French Christmas last year and I get people coming every day to the blog because of my much less interesting post than this one.

And,hey, have you heard Sedaris' piece on Saint Nicolas and Pere? I think you'd enjoy.

Waffle said...

Belette - A different piece to the one I linked to? I don't think so - send on!

Sarah - what is it with mitteleurop and whipping? If i was a proper intello I am sure I could write something really beard-strokingly pretentious about it. I don't think it's lyme disease, but will check, I promise..

NVG - Yes. That would NOT be good I am thinking. Children were very solemn. It is obviously no laughing matter.

Anonymous said...

Red Shoes - I think bad children are sent to Spain because it used to be an enemy nation. Of course now everyone is best friends.

Red Shoes said...

Ooooh, silly me. I don't know why I didn't think of that. Thanks, Barbara. Now, can you explain why the racially insensitive man takes all of the pacifiers and put them in a Nutella pot?

Waffle said...

Love it when you get on without me, comments box. Marvellous. Any advance on the Nutella jar of pacifiers?

Nikki said...

Wow... thanks for laying it out for me, with educational pics and everything! Fascinating... now, if I could just convince my daughter that Santa is really a good guy, and she doesn't need to weep when she HEARS HIS NAME, we'll be good.

Waffle said...

Nikki - whatever you do, don't show her the pictures...

Anonymous said...

EVERYTHING is better with Nutella. Perhaps it's a 'sending the pacifiers to a better place' sort of thing.

Anonymous said...

This is about the fortieth time your blog has made me choke with laughter.

Are there ever shopping mall waffle-fights between St Nicolas and Pere Noel? Do they have turf wars? I'd pay good money to see that.

Also, Pere Fouettard - surely Papa Lazarou in disguise? We know he's been on the run for a while...

On a more sober note, Badger's Parting Gifts may well make you cry, so I'd avoid it for a while until the trauma of recent events has receded. 'Tis good though...


PS Word verification is "mothyip" - the Belgian version of the Bunyip? I was scared silly of the Bunyip as a child...

Waffle said...

Chantal - But St Nicolas is such a bad ass and accompanied by 6 to 8 black men/papa lazarous. Poor old Father Christmas wouldn't have a hope. It would be brutal! Actually, it it wrong that that makes it all the more appealing?

Mothyip. OMG. Mr Farty is right. WV has developed consciousness!

Unknown said...

Great Blog...Great post! At least Christmas in Belgium has a little Omph... Here is Norway it is sooo FREAKING boring... there are no mall Santa's.. Noo... just 3 months (yes I said THREE) of going around the damn tree... and around and around... Just got back from what I HOPE is the last Christmas Party from 2008

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