By Joseph Boer, The Blue Heron
Traditions Ethos is a Greek word for characteristic beliefs and behaviors of certain groups.
Most countries have rituals and festivities to celebrate the end of a year or of an era. The Dutch people from Holland have several such joys. On December 18, 1956, I departed from Rotterdam, Holland, and arrived in New York City on December 25, 1956. I recall missing Christmas and New Years in Holland that year. First to mind comes December 5, when Sint Nicolaas, also known as Goedheiligman (which translates to a kind and saintly person), arrives from Spain aboard a boat accompanied by his large white horse and several helpers. The helpers carry presents for the good children and carry away in their bags the naughty children. It is known that he keeps tabs on all the children, good and bad. Sint Nicolaas rides on his white horse over the rooftops, looks into chimneys and gathers carrots and straw for the horse from the children’s shoes and Klompen (the traditional Dutch wooden shoe). The helpers beat on the windows and doors and pellet the children with hard Pepernoot, which is a cinnamon flavored hard cookie the size of a walnut.
The traditional foods prevalent at this time of year are Krentenbollen, which are sponge cakes shaped like tree logs; candied-fruit-loaded buns; chocolate letters bigger than candy bars; marzipan animals, frogs, swans and leprechauns; red-capped mushrooms with white dots on top; phyllo logs and letters filled with almond paste and often covered with candied fruits. All of these delectable treats were devoured by children and adults alike while singing lovely children’s Christmas songs as friends and relatives congregated during their yearly ritual.
Then comes New Year’s Eve and it’s cold outside. Inside, Snert, a thick pea soup with a smoked pig’s knuckle for flavor, is gently cooked for many hours, sending hunger sensations through everyone in the house. The oldest adults prepare a batter for Oliebollen, which is a deep-fried ball of yeast dough filled with rum-soaked raisins and more candied fruit. The dough is rolled into tennisball-
sized spheres and placed into a boiling pot of peanut oil. When the balls float to the top, they are scooped up, placed on platters and loaded with layers of powdered sugar.
Large platters were stacked to the top with crustless, diamond-shaped sandwiches made from different types of breads and filled with Paling or smoked eel, smoked thinly sliced horse meat, air-dried German ham, different flavored cheeses, herring and salmon as well as Steak Tartare. The Tartars, horsemen of the Steppes or Russian prairie, would place meat beneath their saddles, and with the pounding of their bodies as they rode the meat would become tenderized and flavored by the sweat of the horse and thus made fit for consumption.
Chocolate or anise warmed milk is for the children and, for the ladies, Citroentje or Advokaat, which is made as if making mayonnaise by beating sugared egg yolks into a thick base and then successively pouring Cognac drop by drop into this base until a high-potency alcohol level is reached. It is served to the ladies in small glasses with a dollop of whipped cream, similar to egg nog but better! Seeing my mother smoke was unheard of! I remember being shocked when I saw her awkwardly light up a Panter cigar made by the company Schimmelpenninck. It was shaped like a regular cigarette but made from all tobacco. These are still sold in Holland today. After midnight there was the lighting of accumulated Christmas trees placed in the middle of the crossroads of the streets and set ablaze, and people held hands and danced around the large fire. This tradition is still alive today.
Then, FINALLY, back inside the house after the street celebration is over, the clean-up begins while nipping traditionally on Cognac and remaining glasses of Champagne and warmed wine with Italian grapefruit-size lemons from the Amalfi Coast of Italy and large oranges from Curaçao. Even the kids got to taste this mulled wine to help settle them from all the excitement for a deserved sleep. Libations of all sorts are consumed in celebrating the end of a year. It is sad for me to lose these traditions and to forget them in New Year’s celebrations. However, your quaff may be derived from old memorable moments and therefore I, too, wish you a Zalig Kerstfeest and a Voorspoedig Nieuw Jaar, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!•