It’s hard to imagine there are folks who haven’t yet experienced the joy of Sinterklaas, in one form or another. On the chance that there may still be some “newbies” to this unique extravaganza that draws thousands to our Rhinebeck in early December, here is a bit of “Sinterklaas 101”. Some 300 years ago, Dutch settlers brought a Dutch holiday tradition to Rhinebeck. Long ago in Holland, a town resident would dress up as Sinterklaas, complete with a pointy red bishop’s hat, glossy red cape, twinkling ring and bejeweled staff. Sinterklaas was accompanied by the Grumpus, aka Black Peter, a wild looking, teeth gnashing, half beast half man. Together, they would ride through town and knock on doors. Good children within would receive a bag of goodies. The not so good would get chain rattling threats from the Grumpus to be stolen away into the abyss of his massive black bag, toted along just for that purpose. That perennial ride turned into a parade that takes place in Holland every December 6. The day before, Sinterklaas’s ship arrives from Spain, his homeland for the rest of the year. His ship is greeted by a gaggle of Grumpuses, as well as close to a million people who turn out to celebrate Sinterklaas to this very day.
Here, we do it up Rhinebeck style. The Grumpus is downplayed, and the entire celebration is a command performance for our children. Last weekend, despite the rain, many turned out for the day’s activities in Kingston and the symbolic “departure” of Sinterklaas from Spain, aka The Rondout. As always, one animal in particular is honored; this year it is the owl. One of the many highlights from last weekend’s festivities was the raptor demonstration by Sky Hunters In Flight’s Brian Bradley, showcasing the hunting skills of some of the amazing raptors who grace our local skies, including this year’s honored owls.
This Saturday, Rhinebeck streets will be closed; open only to children, their caregivers, and more mirth and merriment than one could imagine being packed into one day. From fire juggling to tight rope walking, to street dancers and Grumpuses galore, children will revel in non stop fun.
But it is the evening’s Starlight Parade that draws so many from all over, quadrupling our normal tourist population and bringing a giddy joy to old and young alike. Huge, life size puppets of all shapes and sizes, representing every kind of animal imaginable, appear out of the dark as if conjured, twinkling and carousing their way through Rhinebeck’s main drag to the beat of sonorous drums and wacky woodwind instruments. Sinterklaas’s marching and dancing cronies have been, in years past, the Snow Queen and King, the Star Child,The Seven Sisters, Grumpuses, a Polar Bear, All The King’s Horses, Grandmother Earth, The Four Seasons, a Carousel, The Blue Dog, Saint George and the Dragon, Honored Animals from the Past, a Chinese Lion, Penguins, Wild Women, a Turtle, Farm Creatures, a mysterious Pocket Lady, a Flock of Doves, and The Peace Dove, just to name a few! All are led by Sinterklaas, a vision in red and white atop his prancing white steed.
Throughout the day, in addition to being entertained by a cornucopia of visual feasts, children make crowns and fashion their own royal scepters from branches found in Nature, to which they add every sparkly doo dad imaginable. Each child ties three simple wishes to their branch; one for family, one for community, and one for the world. Children, who are often considered the least powerful in our society, for one night become most powerful as they become queens and kings and lead the triumphant Starlight Parade to the heart of town, where all present take a knee and hold illuminated stars to honor children and symbolically bless the future, the hope that children represent. Every day, we hold our children in our arms and in our hearts. On Sinterklaas, we show the world that love.
Sinterklaas is the work of many local hands. Started by the indomitable Jeanne Fleming, it has since become the epitome of the saying “it takes a village”. The puppets are all crafted by local townspeople. The characters who frolic the streets and entertain are local volunteers. The puppets themselves are moved by local friends, students, teachers, and families, who step inside their parts and make them cavort down the street to the beat of drums and whistles and bells.
The workings of Sinterklaas are not so simple. The holiday represents countless hours of work from so many in Rhinebeck. Yet the essence of Sinterklaas is simple. It is about children and love, and celebrating all that is good and wondrous in the world. It is for that simple reason that so many come from afar to share the festival with us. For one night, we are banded together as a community, with our doors open to so many travelers, to celebrate all that is beautiful in our world, despite our differences. Sinterklaas is more than just a Rhinebeck tradition. It is the essence of what our town is all about; people living, working, and loving together. Simply magical. Simply Sinterklaas. Hometown Rhinebeck.
Don’t miss the fun on Saturday, December 3, from morning to night! Our honored owls await you!
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