Belgian Holidays

At Andy's request, here's a bit about how the Dutch and Belgians celebrate the holidays. First off, Christmas is reserved as a primarily religious holiday, and St. Nicholas Day is when presents are exchanged. Not that unusual, right?

Santa Clause, on the other hand, is vastly different. Namely, he's the former Bishop of Turkey and lives in Spain rather than the North Pole. No elves or reindeer here, he's accompanied by 6 to 8 black men who used to be his slaves. With an eye towards more progressive racial relations, they're now just referred to as his close friends. This cursory hint at political correctness is incredibly confusing when taken in light of the way the holiday is celebrated.

When we were in Gent a St. Nicholas day parade came marching through the streets, and the first thing we see walking around the corner is a man in black-face dressed up and dancing around. Then several more. And then Santa. No one batted an eye. We were left incredulous. Maybe those half-witted Minnesota college students who keep dressing up in black-face should study abroad in the Benelux...

David Sedaris wrote a hilarious piece about this. Treat yourself and read it here. It's worth it.