Sunday, December 27, 2020

Readers Write

Dutch Christmas Tradition: 

An email from Kara O commenting on the scene with the little Dutch girl in the fil Miracle on 34th Street: 

Vrolijk Kerstfeest Otto 

Thanks for a perfect Christmas Byte. 

I learnt, and have only ever heard, this version of Sinterklaas kapoentje: 
Sinterklaas kapoentje 
gooi wat in mijn schoentje 
gooi wat in mijn laarsje 
dank je Sinterklaasje! 

I've always understood 'Sinterklaas kapoentje' to refer to Zwarte Piet the dutch equivalent of Santa's Little Helper i.e. an elf. 

Piet is of course very different to an elf but so of course is St Nicholas in his Bishops mitre, crozier and robes not to mention his white horse! 

Gooi (toss/throw) rather than leg (lay) something in my shoe/boot also fits with Piet prancing around tossing pepernoten to many happy children. 

You have probably covered it before but I'm sure there are plenty of byters who don't know how St NIcholas Day (6 December) is celebrated in the Netherlands especially on St Nicholas' Eve (5 Dec). 

Such a shame that we don't see Zwarte Piet any more, my boys loved seeing him and all the associated activities when they were small. 

At least we can still enjoy all the baked dutch goodies each year though I haven't seen any taai-taai so far - Covid strikes again? 

All the best for een Gelukkig Nieuwjaar 

Thanks, Karla. 

Yes, I have covered Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet (Santa Claus/St Nicolas and Black Pete) before. As someone with Dutch origins, having been born in De Hague, my childhood Christmases revolved around those figures and some of the terrifying protocols (at least to a child) that accompanied Christmas. Read about them by clicking on the following links:

A 2018 reprint from the 2010 item below: 

2010 item: 

Ironic that Zwarte Piet is disappearing because of political correctness, rather than for concern for scaring little kiddies. 

By the way: 

The Zwarte Piet issue is dividing Holland and neo-Nazis in the Netherlands have responded violently against calls to get rid of the Dutch Santa’s sidekick. 

Here are some links to that issue: 

“Black Pete: the scandal we Dutch can’t stay silent about any more” 
Joost de Vries 
The Guardian 
November 14, 2018 

The UN has condemned the tradition: 

The debate about the controversial Saint Nicholas character, considered racist by many, is a symptom of deeper divisions in Dutch society 
By Dr Christiaan De Beukelaer, University of Melbourne 
St Nicholas Centre 

Neo-Nazi opposition to removal of Zwarte Piet:
National Geographic

Images illustrating the divide: 

The tradition 

The opposition 

More about Christmas in Holland:

Dianne M also sent me an email about Dutch Christmases. Dianne is a native of the Netherlands, spent many years in Oz but is now living in Holland again. 

Dianne writes:

Hi Otto

Yes I remember that song from way back in my innocent childhood years here in Holland .

This was just after Second World War with very little money and 7 children to feed. The sweets and/or chocolate that we found in our shoes next morning was very special.

Thanks for reminding me and the children still sing it today.

A Happy New Year 2021

Dianne M

Thanks Dianne.

Banjo’s chocolate:

An email from Rob T: 

Hi Otto, 

I really enjoy your series, …. have you seen this about Banjo Patterson…? 

120-year-old chocolate found in Australian poet's belongings 

With best regards, 


I had seen that and I’m glad you reminded me of it, Rob. Thank you. 

This is the article: 

Banjo Paterson: 120-year-old chocolate found in Australian poet's belongings 

When the National Library of Australia recently acquired famous poet Banjo Paterson's personal belongings, the last thing they expected to find was chocolate. 

With links to Queen Victoria, the discovery from 1900 is "one of the best preserved chocolates of this age anywhere", a historian tells the BBC. 

A video accompanies that article and can be sourced by clicking on the above link. 

Here is another news report: 

Staff from the National Library of Australia have made an incredible discovery dating back to the Boer War involving one of the nation’s most iconic poets. The 120-year-old Cadbury chocolate bar that belonged to Andrew Barton “Banjo” Paterson was found intact and with minimal decay. 

Library conservators found the treat hidden at the bottom of a box filled with Paterson’s poetry, diaries and newspaper clippings. “There was quite an interesting smell when they were unwrapped,” National Library of Australia conservator Jennifer Todd told the ABC. “(It was) an old tin of chocolates, belonging to Banjo, with the chocolates still wrapped in the box.” 

The chocolates were sent to war troops in South Africa in a tin container. 

The six-finger bar was still wrapped in the original silver foil and contained the old straw packaging inside. The souvenir tin had “South Africa 1900” and “I wish you a happy New Year, Victoria RI” inscribed on it. In 1899, Queen Victoria decided she wanted to send a gift of chocolate to her troops serving in South Africa. She commissioned three major British chocolate manufacturers, Fry, Cadbury and Rowntree, to produce the goods and it has been documented Queen Victoria personally paid for the manufacturing of the tin boxes. It is estimated that 123,000 tins were sent by the end of 1900. However, while intended for the Boer War troops, the gift became a bargaining tool for some. Paterson travelled to South Africa in 1899 as special war correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and it is speculated that he purchased the tin from serving troops then sent it home to preserve it from the heat. He returned home to Australia later that year. 


Socialism, Bonhoeffer  . . .

An email from Tim B in response to the item about the Nazis revisionism of Christmas: 

Merry Christmas Otto, 

A good read for your byters who are interested in the topic of this byte is “Bonhoeffer” about Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Nazi attempt to replace Christ with the Fuhrer. I would be interested on your father-in-laws take on the direction the US is heading concerning socialism, if he thinks as I do, we are headed that way. 

Take care, 

Tim B 

Thanks, Tim, some weighty items raised by you. “Socialism” is a term that means different things to different people, can be used in an approving manner or can be used to condemn, and everything in between. One must also distinguish between the economic systems (socialism, capitalism) and the political systems (communism, democracy). At what point does the introduction of socialist measures make the government a socialist government and, even if so, how is that necessarily a bad thing? The governments in Australia, whether Labor or Liberal, have policies in varying degrees which are socialist.  many government measures here are socialist.  Cause for thought. 

As regards Tim’s mention of Dietrich Bonhoeffer: 

Dietrich Bonfoeffer

- Bonhoeffer (1906 – 1945) was a Lutheran pastor, theologian, anti-Nazi dissident, and key founding member of the Confessing Church. 

- His writings on Christianity's role in the secular world have become widely influential, and his book The Cost of Discipleship has been described as a modern classic. 

- Apart from his theological writings, Bonhoeffer was known for his staunch resistance to the Nazi dictatorship, including vocal opposition to Hitler's euthanasia program and genocidal persecution of the Jews. 

- He was arrested in April 1943 by the Gestapo and imprisoned at Tegel prison for one and a half years. Later, he was transferred to Flossenb├╝rg concentration camp. 

- After being accused of being associated with the 20 July plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, he was quickly tried, along with other accused plotters, including former members of the Abwehr (the German Military Intelligence Office), and then hanged on 9 April 1945 as the Nazi regime was collapsing. 

The following paragraphs are the opening paragraphs of a 2015 article in The Washington Post (the link appears at the end for those who wish to read the whole article): 

From Nazi Germany, a shining light for our dark political times 

By Michael GersonDecember 24, 2015 

The current ferment of American politics has brought comparisons to Europe in the 1930s, with echoes of leaders who stoke anger against outsiders and promise a return to greatness through the application of a strongman’s will. 

The analogy is hardly exact. Lacking the economic chaos and fragile institutions of Weimar Germany, the United States has fewer footholds for fascism. But the reaction to fascist darkness in the 1930s produced a figure, a bright light, who should guide us. 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German theologian who resisted the Nazis and the influence of Nazism in his own church. He spoke out on behalf of German Jews, was implicated in a plot against Adolf Hitler’s life, was imprisoned, wrote and ministered for years from confinement, then was led naked to the execution ground and hanged with a noose of piano wire, just weeks before the end of World War II. 

From Steve M, also in response to the Bytes post about Nazi revision of Christmas: 

Fantastic Bytes today Your Lordship. Thank you : I am currently researching the second in my Hitler trilogy, which has to be delivered by the end of March 2021. 

Hope Christmas went well for you and yours. 

Steve m 

Thank you Steve, best wishes for the next novel. 

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