Festivals of Western Europe, by Dorothy Gladys Spicer, , at sacred-texts.com
NIEUWJAARSDAG (New Year's Day) January 1
The first day of the year is set aside as a time for calling on friends, feasting on all kinds of exciting foods (including holiday cakes, breads and waffles), and drinking slemp (or slem), an old fashioned New Year's beverage, made with milk.
Among the season's baked specialties are knijpertjes, meaning, literally, "clothespins." This delicacy, a favorite in northern provinces, has been popular since the Middle Ages. Duivekater, another New Year favorite, is a long decorative loaf that is familiar to many through Jan Steen's famous Saint Nicholas Eve painting. This bread, made nowadays by a few professional bakers, is still eaten with as much relish as in seventeenth-century Holland. There are also numberless small holiday cakes and pastries, including such delicacies as appelbeignets, or apple dumplings, oliebollen, fried cakes, and sneeuwballen, or snowballs. In some places soesjes, a regional cake, traditionally accompanies the slemp. Once this steaming milk drink was sold to skaters from stalls on the ice-covered canals. The beverage was not only hot and refreshing; it cost but a few cents a cup.
A popular poet of former days who signed himself "The Schoolmaster," once wrote this satiric rhyme:
"Bitter draughts" referred to alcoholic beverages, while "milk and saffron" meant slemp, a New Year's drink once as traditional to Netherlands as eggnog to Americans.
Here is a modified recipe:
tied together in a cheesecloth bag:
2 whole cloves
1/4 teaspoon mace
Place all the ingredients, except tea and sugar, in the top of a double boiler. Occasionally press spice bag against side of pan. When milk is thoroughly flavored, remove peel and spices. Stir in tea and sugar. Strain into cups and serve hot with holiday cakes.
New Year's Day is as jolly for boys and girls as for their elders. Children scramble out of bed early and try to be first in shouting "Happy New Year" as relatives and friends enter the room. Parents, bachelor uncles and grandfathers reward the youngsters with shining new gulders for their savings banks.
On New Year's Day boys of Zeeland, Overijssel, and some other places go about from house to house ringing bells and wishing people a Happy New Year. Sometimes they make hideous noises on a homemade drum-like contrivance, called rommelpot, or rumble pot, and beg for pennies. The rommelpot is a large kettle with a piece of hide tightly stretched across the top. The boys work a stick up and down through a hole in the center of the skin, thus producing a loud rumbling sound which, when multiplied many times, makes an earsplitting din. Possibly the rommelpot was originally intended to frighten away evil spirits from the homes, at the beginning of the year.
In cities householders receive calls from the newspaper man, the laundry man, the milkman and others, who are given gifts of money in return for their holiday greetings.
DRIEKONINGENAVOND (Three Kings' Eve) January 5
In many places groups of boys chant songs like this as they make the neighborhood rounds on this day and demand their share of Driekoningenavond cheer. The boys, dressed in fantastic garments and wearing gold crowns, carry paper-star lanterns mounted on long poles. As the song indicates, the lads represent the Three Kings of the East following the Star of Bethlehem.
Rosy-cheeked farmers' wives welcome the children in fragrant kitchens and offer candy and cake. Throughout the countryside there are festivities and family parties on this night and itinerant singers never leave homes empty-handed.
Occasionally, as in the nonsense lines that follow, the Kings demand clothing instead of holiday fare:
Characteristic of Driekoningenavond celebrations is the special cake which, according to tradition has a bean or an almond in the dough. Whoever finds the bean or nut in his portion is proclaimed King of the Feast and crowned with mock pomp. The King chooses his consort who is also crowned and rules with him.
In some places the King gives a party to everybody else later in the year; in others guests draw lots to indicate the duties of various members of the Royal Household. Thus the Steward serves food; the Musician improvises entertainment on a paper-covered comb, pots, pans, or other musical instruments he can invent on the spur of the moment; the jester tries to make everyone laugh; the Wine Taster samples drinks and the Councilor gives sage advice. In otherwords, each member of the court has a special function to perform. If anyone forgets his allotted role he must pay a forfeit assigned by the Head of the Exchequer.
An amusing variation of the usual custom exists in Denekamp and other eastern communities where three leaves, rather than a bean and almond are baked in the cake. Each of the three guests finding a leaf gives a party to the others some time during the year.
VASTENAVOND (Fast Eve) (Shrove Tuesday) The Tuesday before Ash Wednesday
Vastenavond, the day preceding the Lenten fast, is observed with all kinds of feasting and merrymaking. Customs vary widely from place to place. In the southern part of the country the Carnival season lasts for three days, beginning on Sunday. In many places the celebration is confined to one day.
In the provinces of Limburg and Brabant it is customary on Fast Eve to eat pancakes and ollebollen, or rich fried cakes. Brabant also specializes in worstebrood, a special kind of bread. Outside, the loaf looks like any other; inside, however, it contains a mixture of deliciously spiced sausage meat--the last to be enjoyed until after Lent.
Carnival is very gay in southern Holland. Preparations for the event are made on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, when a council of eleven organizes plans. Eleven, the traditional number of fools, is selected so "anyone can be as foolish as he likes on three days of the year!" In other words, one can get drunk, wear an outlandish costume, dance in the streets. Any sort of foolishness is permissible on the three days preceding Lent. This is a popular season for dances, parades, and masquerade balls.
Farmers of Schouwen-en-Duiveland, on the island of Zeeland, still observe an interesting old Vastenavond custom. In the afternoon they gather at the village green with their horses. The animals are carefully groomed. Manes and tails are combed out and decorated with gaily-colored paper roses.
The men finally ride their horses down to the beach, making sure the animals get their feet wet. At the head of the colorful procession the leader toots on a horn.
When the men return to the village the burgomaster treats them to a drink and the rest of the evening is spent in dancing and merrymaking.
PALM ZONDAG (Palm Sunday) The Sunday preceding Easter
Palm Sunday (in some places the Saturday before) is a holiday that is impatiently awaited by boys and girls. Dressed in their Sunday best, the children go in procession from farm to farm with the traditional Palmpaas, or Easter "palm." As the youngsters march they sing nonsense verses in which they beg eggs for the Easter sports.
The Palmpaas is a curiously-decorated stick which, although differing widely from district to district, usually is decorated with many of the same Easter emblems. The framework of the Palmpaas is a hoop, attached to a stick that is between eighteen and fifty-four inches long. The hoop is covered with boxwood and adorned with colored paper flags, egg shells, sugar rings, oranges, raisins, figs, chocolate eggs and small cakes. Surmounting the structure are little baked dough figures of swans or cocks. In Deventer, in the province of Overijssel, five or more swans decorate the girls' Palmpaas, while the boys' have but a single larger bird. Sometimes competitions are held for the most striking Palmpaas. Originally, this stick, with its fig, egg, and bird decorations, was doubtless a fertility symbol representing the bringing of spring into the village, resurrection after the death of winter.
The children walk through country lanes or village streets, carrying their Palmpaas and little empty baskets. Meanwhile, the youthful voices intone the well known words:
Half speaking, half chanting, the children continue:
thus indicating that at least three eggs are needed to make one Paasei or Easter egg.
Another version of the song, coming from the Overijssel communities of Ootmarsum and Denekamp, reminds householders that Easter eggs are wanted for the popular Dutch sport of eiertikken, or egg tapping:
In certain Roman Catholic areas the "palms" that decorate the Palmpaas are preserved, after the priest's consecration, as protection against lightning and sore throat during the coming year.
PASEN, or PASEN ZONDAG (Easter Sunday)
Throughout the country Easter is celebrated as a great spring holiday. In homes there are charmingly laid tables with decorations of colored eggs and early flowers. Paasbrood, a delicious sweet bread stuffed with raisins and currants, is one of many traditional feast day specialties which are as much a part of Easter as the joyously ringing church bells.
Almost every eastern Netherlands hamlet observes the day by lighting Easter bonfires on some hill or high point outside the village. Collection of fuel begins weeks in advance. Everyone contributes his share of wood. Even the tiniest child toddles up to the vast pile to lay on a few twigs or sticks.
Generally much friendly rivalry exists between neighboring communities to see which can get the biggest bonfire. As the flames mount villagers join hands and dance about the fires, singing hymns of great antiquity. On Easter afternoon the glow of fires often lights the sky over larae areas and fills the air with the tangy scent of wood smoke.
Although each village has its own Easter fire customs and its own songs (often known only in local vernicular), Denekamp, in the province of Overijssel, is unique in featuring two young men who represent the comic characters of Judas and Iscariot.
Judas, people tell me, is "the clever man." He is the master of ceremonies while his assistant, Iscariot (Karloter, in Denekamp dialect) is "the stupid man," who acts the part of a brainless clown. There are some who think the character of Judas is simply a Christianized personification of the pagan figure of Winter or Death which was cast from the village in early spring.
The duty of Judas and Iscariot is to prepare the Easter bonfire and to fetch and set up the "Easter pole," a tall fir tree which is annually contributed by owners of the famous Den Beugelskamp estate.
On Palm Sunday Judas and his assistant go with baskets from farm to farm, singing regional Easter songs and begging for money and eggs. Later, the eggs are sold. The proceeds, added to cash already collected, help defray expenses of pine wood for the bonfire.
The following Sunday every detail of dragging the Easter pole to the village is performed according to established custom. In the afternoon a company of men and boys, led by Judas and Iscariot, goes down the long beech-lined avenues skirting the meandering Dinkel, to Den Beugelskamp, situated a little outside the town. The superintendent indicates the tree assigned to the bonfire. Judas climbs the fir and securely ties a rope to the top. Then the stripping begins. All side branches are removed. Only the feathery top remains. The tree is cut down. The men form in a long line and many pairs of willing hands drag the fir top foremost to the village Church of Saint Nicholas. There the tree is stood up outside the door until after Easter vespers, which all Denekamp attends. Later, the men and boys drag the "Easter pole" (possibly, a substitute for the Maypole of earlier days) to the Paasbult, or Easter hill, at the edge of the town. The stripped fir is firmly planted close to the huge unlighted bonfire.
Traditionally, Judas sets a ladder against the tree, climbs up, and starts auctioning it to the highest bidder. Everyone teases and makes fun of Judas, who finally gives over his place to Iscariot. The crowd jeers and hoots at him also. Finally, when the sport becomes tiresome, Judas makes the announcement that the fire will be lighted at eight o'clock that night. Only then do the townsfolk go home to suppers of Easter eggs and other seasonal goodies.
Later, as the great bonfire burns, Denekamp's folk dance far into the night and honor the Risen Christ with a hymn known only to their town. Many of the original words are obsolete or exist solely in native dialect. The verses are given in full since few persons remember them all. Both the archaic expressions and the curious blending of Old and New Testment themes suggest the song's antiquity:
Therefore, therefore come, all ye mortals.
Alleluja, alleluja! Let us sing.
Samson came at midnight
He, he let the portals fall.
Christ rose by his own strength.
Who will deny it?
Jonas after three days
Was spewed up by the whale.
Christ, to the Jews' regret,
Arises! This will I believe.
False reasons were sought;
O, shame upon the Jews!
The soldiers who were bribed
Lay like the dead beside the grave.
Three Marys with all haste
Came to the grave, afraid
Until they heard the good angel say,
He whom ye seek is risen.
Magdalena stood by the grave
But when she saw the gardener
Her sadness disappeared.
Christ in darkest night
Has risen in shining glory.
He has broken Satan's power.
Come, let us be glad.
Pharaoh in frantic mood
Pursued Israel's children;
Through the stream of Christ's blood
All sins are washed away.
Pharaoh as if of lead
Is lost in the sea.
The Conqueror of Death
Appears in splendor,
Arising like a god, full of glory.
Then Death was overcome.
Let us rejoice in Jesus' name
That eternal life is won.
Glory to the Father and to the Son,
Glory to the Spirit of both.
May He in His mercy
Lead us to the Heavenly Kingdom.
VLOGGELEN ("Winging" Ceremony), in Ootmarsum, province of Overijssel Easter Sunday and Monday
The old Easter-tide custom of Vloggelen, meaning in local dialect "to wing" or "go as with wings," is practiced only in the eastern Netherlands village of Ootmarsum. The Vloggelen ceremony is in the nature of a slow, ritualistic dance--probably the survival of some early spring fertility rite. The villagers, who include farmers, housewives, young people and children, form in line in Ootmarsum's narrow cobbled streets. Each person then puts the right hand behind his back and clasps the left hand of the person directly following. A long human chain is thus formed. The line then advances gradually, "like birds on the wing," in rhythm to the constantly repeated words and melody of an ancient Easter hymn. The dancers zig-zag through winding streets and rutted country roads, entering the front doors of shops, inns, farmhouses and barns and emerging by back doors.
The melody of the Easter song is peculiar to Ootmarsum, although the words are familiar to the neighboring villlge of Denekamp. Each of the nineteen verses ends with an Alleluia refrain. Since few people, nowadays, know all the words by heart, it is customary to pin a copy of the entire song to the back of each dancer. In this way nobody falters and the fine old words ring out continuously as the dancers wind in and out, up and down, with the traditional message of hope and life eternal:
PASEN, or PAAS MAANDAG (Easter Monday) The Monday after Easter
Paas Maandag, or Easter Monday, is a gay holiday for both children and adults who celebrate the occasion with many kinds of egg games.
Eierrapen, or hunting for colored eggs hidden by their elders in house or garden, is a favorite pastime of the younger children, while eiertikken, or hitting together hardbolled Easter eggs, is the day's real sport for boys and girls of all ages.
In country places many children still use coffee grounds, beet juice, onion skins and other vegetable substances to color the eggs collected before Easter. The dyed eggs are then packed in baskets and carried to the meadow or other outdoor gathering place designated for the eiertikken contests. The children line up. At a given signal each child matches his green, yellow, or red egg against his neighbor's egg of corresponding color. The trick is to break the shell of the opponent's egg without damaging the shell of his own. The boy or girl who is successful in this feat not only keeps his own egg but collects his adversary's. Of course, the player winning the most eggs is acclaimed local eiertikken champion and, as such, holds an enviable position among all the other boys and girls.
FLUITJES MAKEN (Whistle Making), in Ootmarsum, province of Overijssel About May 1
This is the season when boys and girls in and about Ootmarsum, in Overijssel, welcome spring by making whistles of mountain ash. The young people soak sections of ash in water until the bark slips off with a few vigorous taps of the jackknife. While the tapping is going on, this traditional nonsense rhyme is chanted:
The last two lines of the chant refer to the bark which does not come off without a final big rap of the knife.
VELDGANG (Going to the Fields), in Mekkelhorst, province of Overijssel The Monday preceding Ascension Thursday
On Rogation Monday inhabitants of the little eastern Netherlands village of Mekkelhorst perform the time-honored ceremony of going to the fields to ask God's blessing on all growing things.
At dusk the girls and young men, farmers and gardeners assemble in procession to perambulate the parish and visit an ancient boundary oak. Along the route the group, preceded by the girls and women walking two abreast, pauses to pray for growth of vegetables and grains, the prospering of fruit trees and the granting of rich harvests.
The procession reaches the oak and then goes on to the fields, to kneel before a crucifix and pray for the crops.
The Rogationtide processions of the Christian Church survive from Roman times when, at the end of May, young maidens sang and danced and visited the fields "to drive out the winter." Animals were offered to Mars at these ceremonies and prayers said, to invoke the gods' blessings of increase and prosperity.
DAUWTRAPPEN (Dew Treading) Ascension
Dauwtrappen, or "dew treading," is an old folk custom that still is observed in both city and country areas. Townsfolk rise at dawn and take their children to the suburbs where the youngsters tramp through the morning dew and gather early spring flowers. Rural people, on the other hand, visit neighboring fields and meadows and then meet with family and friends at some country inn for a jolly six o'clock breakfast.
is a popular nursery ditty which reflects the old superstition that May rain and May dew possess supernatural power. The delightful dauwtrappen custom doubtless originated in an early belief that Ascension Day dew or rain makes the body both sound and beautiful.
Making immense Ascension Day bread loaves is another folk survival which still is observed at Hengelo, in Overijssel. Centuries ago, people say, farmers of the area had permission to dig all the peat they needed, provided they baked Ascension Day loaves for the parish poor. Custom decreed that any farmer would be fined who baked a loaf weighing less than twenty-five pounds. As a special inducement to generosity a bottle of white wine was awarded to the man who produced the heaviest loaf. The winner of the wine was expected to treat all his friends to a party.
Keen competition existed among farmers and their wives to see who could bake the largest loaf. Often the stipulated weight was exceeded by three or four times. Even today immense Ascension loaves, filled with plump raisins and baked to toothsome perfection, are carefully prepared, weighed, and distributed among hospitals and homes for the aged and infirm.
KALLEMOOI (Kallemooi), in Schiermonnikoog, North Coast Islands The Saturday before Whitsun
The custom called Kallemooi, which is celebrated at Schiermonnikoog, in the North Coast Islands, represents the fishermen's welcome to spring. Although both the name of the curious custom and its origin are obscure, there are many speculations regarding the meaning of the word Kattemooi. Some say it can be translated as "calling the May." Others claim it is derived from the word kalemei, meaning a "tree without branches," namely a bare tree. This interpretation is preferred by many.
A tall pole with a transverse arm near the top is erected in the center of the hamlet. At the apex of the crosspiece a basket is suspended, with a live cock inside. A group of young men temporarily "borrow" the bird for the occasion from some unsuspecting villager. An empty bottle is hung from either arm of the structure, which is decorated at the top with the Dutch flag, a fresh green May branch and a placard bearing the word Kallemooi.
For three days and nights people give themselves over to the joys of feasting, merrymaking, and playing Whitsun games. Local inns serve a special drink known as "Kallemooi bitters." After the fun is over the rooster is released and returned to his owner's farm.
LUILAK (Lazy Bones Day) The Saturday before Whitsun
Luilak, or Lazybones Day, is essentially a festival of youth and is celebrated in Zaandam, Amsterdam, and some other western Netherland towns. The holiday starts at four in the morning on the Saturday before Pinkster, or Whit Sunday, when troops of young people begin whistling, beating on pots, kettles and pans, ringing doorbells and raising such terrific racket that sleep is impossible. Indeed nobody can sleep, because any boy or girl refusing to rise and join the fun is branded Luilak, or "Lazybones" throughout the coming year. Luilakken, moreover, must treat their companions to candy or cakes, besides being the butt of all sorts of taunts, jokes and teasing.
is one derisive rhyme that greets the late riser.
There is a legend that the name Luilak originated in 1672 with one Piet Lak, a watchman, who was caught napping when French invaders entered the country. Piet Lak, according to the story, became known as Luie-Lak, or Lazy Lak. From this uncomplimentary nickname the term is said to have arisen.
Zaandam and Haarlem children celebrate Luilak by making little wagons which often are shaped like boots and sometimes are decorated with green branches and thistles, known as luilakken. The youngsters trundle their wagons over the cobblestones until the wheels become smoking hot and finally catch fire. The children either watch their wagons go up into flames or else dump them into the canals. This rite represents an ancient spring fertility ceremony which long since has been forgotten.
The town of Haarlem, which is situated in tle heart of the country's flower growing industry, observes Luilak with a celebrated Whitsun flower market in the Grote Markt, or Great Market.
Following the pealing of the midnight bells in the steeple of Saint Bavo's (the Grote Kerk), floodlights are turned on and the flower market suddenly springs into life. There one sees row upon row of stalls banked with great golden daffodils, pure white tulips with petals like angels' wings, scarlet tulips, blue irises, pink and red geraniums. Cumbersome barrel organs grind out reel after reel of dance music, to the delight of scores of young people who start waltzing about the square.
Herring stalls, ice cream wagons and booths filled with fragrant gingerbreads and delicate pastries, furnish refreshment for the merrymakers and purchasers who surge through the market place.
From midnight until eight in the morning housewives hurry to the Grote Markt to purchase Luilak flowers to be placed in windows or on feast day tables throughout the Whitsun holiday.
In many parts of the country Luilakbollen, or Lazy Bones Cakes, are a specialty of the season. Here is a recipe for the delicacy, traditionally baked in the shape of little fat double rolls, and served hot with syrup:
Sift together flour and salt and add melted shortening. Dissolve yeast in one half of the tepid milk and combine thoroughly with the first mixture. Beat the egg, add the remaining milk, and mix all together. Knead in lemon peel and raisins and let rise for about 45 minutes in warm place. Knead down and shape into 16 rolls. Brush with melted butter and let rise another 45 minutes. Bake about 15 minutes in moderate oven (350°).
PINKSTER (Whitsunday), in Deventer, province of Overijssel The fiftieth day after Easter
Making the Pinksterkroon, or Whitsun crown, around which neighborhood children dance and sing has long been a community affair in the old town of Deventer. Some time before the festival a committee called Buurtvereniging, or "community of neighbors," goes from house to house in the poorer streets to collect funds for making the Whitsun crown's paper decorations. Since people of each street hope to win the annual competition for the most beautiful and original Pinksterkroon, the various neighborhoods take care to keep their preparations secret.
Traditionally, the Pinksterkroon is made over a bell-shaped wire frame that stands at least five feet high and is supported within by five or six wire hoops of graduated size. The top of the structure is adorned by a crown, or by two intersecting hoops. The framework, which is wound with colored paper strips is decorated with brightly-colored paper chains, lanterns, fringes, streamers and small flags. The whole effect has to be airy and transparent, so one can "look through" the crown.
Holland's Pinksterkroon, like England's Maypole, is a gay and charming symbol of early spring. Like the Maypole, the crown is set up on the green, or in the center of a village square where both children and adults can dance about it. The Whitsun crown song, once chanted to accordion accompaniment, now is sung to "recorded" music issuing from a commercial loud speaker. "There is no old charm in it at all," according to a Deventer resident who remembered the original words. "I am afraid this is one of the newer corruptions," she added regretfully, writing down the modern version:
We dance about it as of old,
All together, hand in hand.
Hoezee! Hoezee! Hoezee!
Before the Second World War, Deventer used to have as many as twenty or thirty Whitsun crowns. Nowadays their number is greatly reduced. In former times, after dancing about the crowns in a daytime celebration for children and an evening one for adults, people always set fire to the wreaths and then threw them into the river Yssel.
PINKSTER BRUID or PINKSTERBLOEM (Whitsun Bride or Whitsun Flower), in Volte, Ootmarsum, Markelo, Rijssen, Hellendoorn, Hengelo, and other communities, province of Overijssel Whit Tuesday
In scattered villages of Overijssel the Pinkster Bruid, or Whitsun Bride, accompanied by her maidens, makes an appearance early on Whit Tuesday morning. The diminutive Bride or Queen (also known as Pinksterbloem, or Whitsun Flower) wears a white dress and flower wreath. Children walking on either side hold an arch of flowers over the little girl, who marches with the gentle dignity that becomes a queen.
The pretty procession, headed by the Bride, is made up of village girls who wear long white communion dresses. Small boys, also, often participate in the little parade. The children go from house to house in the neighborhood and sing for eggs and money, which later are used for a Pinkster feast. The children's songs vary from place to place, but in Hengelo the words go something like this:
Another song, well known at Volte and Ootmarsum, is addressed not to the rich man, but to the lazy child who is reproved by her playmates for not rising in time to join the procession:
Many believe that the custom of the Pinkster Bride, or Flower, originated in pagan times and that the little girl who plays the part in the children's modern village drama personifies awakening spring or the returning summer.
LEIDENS ONTZET (Leyden Day) October 3
This day which marks the lifting of the Siege of Leyden by the Spaniards is celebrated by eating bread and herrings and a special kind of stew, known as Hutspot met Klapstuk.
In the year 1574 the people of Leyden were surrounded by the Spaniards. Plague raged in the besieged city and thousands died from disease and hunger. Legend says that a band of desperate citizens finally marched to the Town Hall and demanded that Burgomaster Adrian van der Werff end their misery through surrender.
The Burgomaster, unmoved by the threats and pleas of the townsfolk, replied that he had sworn to keep the city safe; that, with God's help, he would keep his oath. "We shall starve if relief does not come soon, that I know," he continued. "Better it is to die of starvation than shame. Kill me, if you must. Eat my flesh to satisfy your hunger. But while I live, you can expect no surrender."
The heroic obstinacy of their leader so heartened the starving populace that they decided to hold out longer. Relief came shortly, however, for on the second of October a tempest arose, lashing the waters and carrying the Spanish fleet far out to the ocean. Leyden was saved!
Loud were the prayers of thanksgiving and great the rejoicing of Leyden's people, to whom Burgomaster van der Werff became a hero. Today his statue may be seen in Leyden's basilica church of Saint Pancras.
Legend says that the first person to venture from the besieged city on October 3, 1574, was a young orphan boy. Outside the fortresses in the deserted Spanish camp, the boy discovered a huge iron pot (in some versions of the story there were several) containing a savory mixture of meat and vegetables. The kettle's contents, hurriedly left behind by the fleeing enemy, were still hot. The orphan quickly notified the townsfolk of his find and soon everyone gathered round to enjoy the Spaniards' dinner. Hutspot met Klapstuk was the name Leyden's starving people gave to the delicious stew which constituted their first good meal for many months.
When William of Orange's "Sea Beggars," as his sailors were called, finally were able to get to Leyden's rescue, they brought ships loaded with herrings and white bread.
"That is why," explained my informant, "we traditionally eat herrings and white bread for lunch, and Hutspot met Klapstuk for dinner on October third, in memory of the lifting of Leyden's epic siege."
Hutspot met Klapstuk
Cook the meat in 3 cups boiling water until the liquid is reduced by one third and the meat is almost tender. Dice potatoes and carrots, slice onions and slowly simmer over low flame until the vegetables are done and the stock almost absorbed.
Remove meat and slice. Season vegetables to taste, mash together until smooth, season and add butter. Serve very hot with the meat.
SINT MAARTEN (Saint Martin) November 11
On or about November 11 it is customary for boys and girls all over the country to go about serenading householders and begging firewood and goodies "for Saint Martin's feast." Saint Martin's Day, coming as it does at the season when cattle are slaughtered, new wines are tasted, and geese are fat, is looked upon as harvest thanksgiving time in many European countries. In the Netherlands at least forty early churches are dedicated to Saint Martin, the fourth-century patron of Gaul. His feast, with its fire rites and traditional roast goose dinners, is thought to have originated in Roman times when the goose was annually sacrificed as a thank offering for crops.
In many places children build bonfires and march in processions with lighted Chinese lanterns, or with homemade lanterns made from scooped-out turnips, carrots, or beets. During their march the children sing ancient verses about Saint Martin, patron of beggars. The songs, curiously enough, picture the saint as a beggar himself, "with cold arms" and badly needing a fire, rather than as a benefactor of beggars. The songs vary widely from place to place. One of the most amusing comes from North Holland. The first lines, at least, are well known in Hoorn where, for some unexplained reason, boys and girls observe the festival on the fourth Monday in August, rather than in November. After sly reference to "the rich man who can give much," the song speaks of the procession "with a hundred thousand little lights."
Venlo, in Limburg, is one of the most important centers for Saint Martin Day celebrations. For days before the festival young people sing through the streets and people toss them "gifts from Saint Martin" from the windows. On the Eve grown-ups as well as children participate in lantern processions. An impersonator of Saint Martin drives through the streets in an open state carriage and the whole affair assumes the character of a civic observance.
In Venlo, where Saint Martin's festival is celebrated much like Saint Nicholas' in other places, children rush home after the procession and dance about a lighted candle, placed on the floor. The rite is accompanied by a traditional song:
At the family party that follows Saint Martin often visits the children in person, just as Saint Nicholas calls on December 5. Sometimes the Saint is accompanied by Black Peter the Moor, who also appears with Saint Nicholas. The children dance or sing for Saint Martin, and Peter either throws sweets from behind the door or strews them over the floor.
This custom of scattering goodies is very old. At Utrecht, where the first church in North Netherlands was dedicated to Saint Martin, his day was originally called Schuddekorfsdag, the day of "shaking a basket" over the fire. A basket of apples and chestnuts was customarily shaken over a fire until the contents were roasted, and then they were tossed to the children. While scrambling for their share of delicacies the boys and girls sang a verse which is known in both North and South Holland, although in different versions:
MIDWINTERHOORN BLAZEN (Blowing the Midwinter Horn) in the province of Overijssel Beginning of Advent until the Sunday following Epiphany
Blowing the Midwinter Horn is a custom peculiar to the province of Overijssel where, according to one local authority, it probably originated over two thousand years ago. Farmers of Denekamp, Ootmarsum, and surrounding communities start making winter horns at Advent. Blowing them above their frozen wells (which act as sounding boards) the horns make plaintive music, which carries far through the still night air.
The winter horn, which generally is fashioned from fitted sections of curving birchwood, has an elderwood mouthpiece and measures about forty-five inches in length. When soaked in water the crude instrument gives out a shrill, monotonous tone which carries for great distances across the level countryside. To persons from other areas the winter horn's notes may sound primitive and barbaric: but to the eastern farmer they symbolically "banish winter and announce the coming of Christ, Light of the World," to their own and surrounding communities. In pagan times horns were blown to expel demons and evil spirits. Today the winter horn brings tidings of Jesus' birth.
In Oldenzaal, near Denekamp, the champion horn blower of the district told how he had initiated the modern custom of blowing the winter horn during Advent from the four corners of the local fourteenth-century church tower. The champion, who has selected by competition the finest horn blowers from fourteen surrounding parishes, has arranged a Christmas melody in which each man sounds a single note on his horn at one time. When the first note stops the second begins; the third follows the second, and so on, until the entire tune is played. This composition greets Oldenzaal's inhabitants at five in the morning of Advent Eve and continues until Three Kings' Day, when Yuletide officially ends. Only on Christmas Day do the horns follow the church bells' chiming, which begins at half past four in the morning.
Each community usually has one man who is the district's recognized authority in making winter horns. In Denekamp, there is the local klompenmaker, or maker of wooden shoes. A young son nimbly climbed the long ladder to the open attic in his father's small factory and reverently brought the winter horn down from storage. The shoemaker deftly fitted together the various sections of the horn and directed the boy to draw a bucket of water.
"It is dry now," explained the klompenmaker, pointing to the horn. "I must soak it a little before it will sound; and then I can give you only an idea of the music as the horn still will be dry."
At last, the instrument was ready to be tried. The master horn maker drew a tremendous breath, puffed out both cheeks and let go with a blast. The three different notes he played possessed a primitive quality that was impressive as well as monotonous. As the creator of the horn proudly explained, "On a winter's night when you hear many horns, sounding from all directions, across ice-sheeted meadows and everything is black and still, then the music is beautiful. The sound carries great distances--sometimes as far as three kilometers."
Like the Pied Piper's flute, the first shrill notes of the winter horn irresistibly attracted great numbers of young boys. Silently they gathered in the small yard and pressed about the shop's open door. They stood transfixed, gazing in fascinated admiration at the curved birch horn like one which in time, they, too, would blow at Advent across Denekamp's frosty fields.
SINT NiCOLAAS AVOND or SINTERKLAAS AVOND (Saint Nicholas or Santa Klaus Eve) December 5
Sint Nicolaas, or Saint Nicholas, fourth-century Bishop of Spain, has been the Dutch children's gift bringer for over six hundred years. According to tradition, the long-bearded Bishop, in white robe and red cassock, with tall red miter, white gloves and a golden staff in his hand, comes to Holland each year from Spain. Walking beside the Bishop is Zwarte Piet, Black Peter, his Moorish servant who, dressed like a medieval page in plumed hat, doublet and hose, carries a yawning black bag with presents for good children and switches for those who are bad.
Legend says that Saint Nicholas rides over the roofs on a beautiful white horse. In big cities he often arrives officially by boat from Spain; so accustomed has he become to modern ways that sometimes he even arrives by helicopter. The saint jumps on his horse from roof to roof. Zwarte Piet slips down each chimney and fills the children's shoes, which stand in a row awaiting his arrival. The boys and girls leave hay, a cup of water or carrots-sometimes, even, lump sugar and pumpernickel--for the saint's white horse. As we shall see, if the children have been diligent and obedient during the year they find in their shoes, next day, a sweet or a small toy; if naughty, they get a birch switch. After finishing his work, Zwarte Piet climbs up the chimney and the saint and his helper are off to another house.
On Saint Nicholas' Eve the good bishop and Black Peter make an appearance at every village door. The night is popularly called "Strewing Eve," because just before the saint arrives Black Peter supposedly throws pepernoten, or pepper nuts, down the chimney. In some homes a door bell rings loudly; then a black-gloved hand, suggesting the presence of Zwarte Piet, opens the door slightly and tosses handfuls of the hard, spicy little round cakes into the room. The children start crawling over the floor, collecting all the pepernoten they can get, singing, meanwhile, little greetings to Saint Nicholas.
The songs vary from place to place, but one of the most popular is:
Another well known verse is:
Yet another song, which invites the saint's generosity, begins:
While the boys and girls are busy scrambling for sweets, the saint enters the room and questions the little ones on their behavior during the past year. Black Peter, meanwhile puts in an appearance, also, and if the children have been bad he does not hesitate to open his black sack. This gesture terrifies guilty children because it indicates that he will carry them away to Spain and keep them for a year until they become good children and can be returned to their parents! At last the visitors make their farewell and the children are put to bed.
Then their elders have their "surprises"--gifts and bundles mysteriously wrapped and appearing from mysterious quarters. Theoretically, all presents come from Saint Nicholas. Consequently, the actual givers try to keep their identity secret by confusing the recipient with humorous verses and false leads. Often a small gift, for example, has many different wrappings, each addressed to a different person. By the time the article finally reaches the one for whom it is intended, many nonsense rhymes have been read and everyone has had great fun. Sometimes days or months go by before the giver is discovered.
The arrival of Saint Nicholas on December 5 is a civic, as well as a family affair in cities like Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam and elsewhere. Amsterdam, for example, where Saint Nicholas is patron of the city, has a particularly noteworthy celebration. There the saint arrives at the Prins Hendrik Kade, or Quay, aboard the steamer Spanje (Spain), followed by his retinue on the Madrid. Booming guns, pealing bells, the shouts and cheers of millions of spectators all add impressiveness to Saint Nicholas' official welcome. Mounting his faithful horse which awaits him at the pier, the saint, accompanied by the Burgomaster, aldermen and other dignitaries, heads a brilliant procession through the city. The saint is accompanied on his tour by efficient helpers--an entire brigade of Black Peters on foot or mounted on motor scooters or bicycles who distribute gifts to boys and girls in hospitals, schools, and institutions.
SINT NICOLAAS DAG (Saint Nicholas' Day) December 6
In the homes younger children rise early and rush to the fireplace to see what Saint Nicholas has left in their shoes. Included among the gifts there are sure to be many traditional Dutch sweets, such as taai-taai (meaning "tough-tough"), a spiced honey gingerbread, cut into various human and animal figures; borstplaat, a creamy bonbonlike candy, made into pink and white hearts and other pretty shapes; and marzipan, simulating small fruits and vegetables, sometimes tiny sausages, or even little pigs.
Occasionally someone gets marzipan that looks like an open sandwich, spread with ham or cheese. All kinds of jokes are attributed to Saint Nicholas for, as we have already seen, he loves "surprises." For this reason marzipan may assume some deceptive guise, such as of a realistic looking piece of toilet soap.
Children prize their initials made in chocolate. Cbocolade letters is the name of this coveted sweet. Most characteristic of all seasonal goodies, however, is the crisp, spicy speculaas, a cooky baked in molds. The making of these gingerbreads is an ancient art that is continued by some old fashioned bakers. Sometimes a child receives a gigantic figure of Saint Nicholas on his horse, or he may have more modest pieces representing girls, boys, toys, or favorite animals.
Adults often give and receive banket letters, which are almond stuffed pastries cut into the shapes of the recipients' initials. These initials vary greatly in size, since the warmer the friend, the larger the initial is likely to be. Sometimes young men give huge banket letters to sweethearts, or possibly they present the girl with the entire name spelled out in candy letters.
EERSTE KERSTDAG (First Christmas Day) December 25
Christmas is a two-day holiday which is generally celebrated by attending church services and holding family gatherings. In the cities Christmas trees, holly, and other greens are brought up the canals in barges and later sold from stalls in the markets and along the streets.
In some homes the Christmas tree, star-crowned and hung with polished red apples and all kinds of sweets and goodies, is the center of family festivities; but Saint Nicholas' Eve is the old fashioned popular feast in the Netherlands and Christmas is likely to be spent quietly with family and friends.
Among the seasonal foods Kerstkrans, the "Christmas Wreath" pastry is a universal favorite. Whenever friends drop in during the holiday--for morning coffee or afternoon or evening tea--a slice of this delicious cake, made with rich almond paste inside and equally rich puff paste outside, is sure to be served. The pastry is baked in a ring and decorated with white icing and all kinds of colorful candied fruits and peels.
TWEEDE KERSTDAG (Second Christmas Day) December 26
On the Second Christmas Day holiday festivities continue in the homes. In the cities many people celebrate the day by attending theatre parties and concerts or meeting with friends in restaurants and cafes.
OUDEJAARS AVOND (New Year's Eve) December 31
On New Year's Eve it is customary for everyone, including those who are not habitual church-goers, to attend divine service. The minister generally gives a resume of the year's events and holds a brief memorial for parishioners who have died during the previous twelve months. He never mentions the names of the dead, however, unless they belong to the Royal Family.
After reading the Ninetieth Psalm, "Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations," the eighteenth-century hymn by the Dutch poet, Rhijnvis Felth, Uren, Dagen, Maanden, Jaren, Vliegen Als een Schaduw Heen, is traditionally sung. The hymn begins with the lines:
Hours, days, months, years flee like a shadow. Alas! wherever we look we find nothing lasting here below,
and ends with the thought that, despite the joys and sorrows wrought by the years, "God never changes" and His hand leads us from this life into life everlasting.
Port towns such as Rotterdam welcome the New Year by blowing whistles and the sirens of ships and factories.
Ootmarsum in eastern Netherlands announces the New Year in the old-fashioned way--through the night watchman. He goes through the town at midnight rapping his club on the cobbled streets and calling in loud tones: