Tag Archives: Holland

The Little English Library

4 Feb

Breda Netherlands

I have a friend who I find exhausting. This isn’t because she’s exasperating – she’s exhausts me because she’s inspiring. I have no idea how she manages to do all that she does. Tatia is a mum-of-two, an EFL teacher and publisher and a general all-round bundle of energy who last year moved from England to the Dutch city of Breda. Not content to drink coffee and munch Appelkoek on the expat circuit, Tatia is this month launching an exciting non-profit project: The Little English Library.

The Little English Library is an English language library for expat children aged 0-12 years and for Dutch children learning English. Based in the Montessori School in Breda, it is the first space of its kind in the Netherlands devoted to the free provision of English language children’s books. As well as books, the library – manned entirely by volunteers – will be offering parent and baby rhyme time and storytelling sessions. Not bad going for a project initiated by one busy mum relying entirely on donations and support from book-loving individuals and organisations!

The Library is due to open later this month and has just launched its ‘My Book has Wings’ campaign to bolster its stock of books and to involve children and schools in growing the library. If you are able to donate any books or can help in any other way, please do contact Tatia – info@littlelibrary.nl. The Little English Library is an amazing project to support and I am immensely proud of what Tatia has achieved. She is certainly an inspiration to me and  she’s sure to help inspire a love of books through The Little English Library.

 

 

Christmas cheer and fear (part 2)

2 Dec

E and ZP

Just when you thought Father Christmas was scary enough, along trots Zwarte Piet with a handful of sweeties. But what’s worse is that he tags along with Santa. Double trouble. Lock up your reindeer.

Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) is a familiar character in the Sinterklaas celebrations in early December in the Netherlands and Belgium. Tradition has it that Saint Nicholas (Sinterklaas) arrives on a boat from Spain (like Raymond Briggs’ Father Christmas dreams of, he has clearly ended up in a sunny ex-pat community) bringing with him a mischievous Moorish companion, Zwarte Piet. Piet ably assists Sinterklaas in deciding who has been nice and who has been naughty and, dressed in his colourful pantaloon and feathered cap, he looks very much the clownish companion of his sharper suited and bearded boss.

Nothing wrong in that you might think. A long-standing tradition from the 19th century. Harmless fun. You might be feeling some warmth towards Zwarte Piet already, imagining him darning Santa’s socks after a long day’s sleigh ride (or boat ride in this case). Gently brushing the snow from Santa’s beard. Bringing him a brandy. Nothing there that could be remotely unsettling for an adult or child. Right? We like a bit of history, a bit of colour. Would you like to meet Piet in his full glory?

ZP

This is the Zwarte Piet that you will see striding through the streets of Holland in the run up to Christmas, handing out sweets to children. He is also a staple feature of the decorations adorning shops and streets, as ubiquitous as the Christmas robin or reindeer. My first reaction on seeing Zwarte Pieten in the flesh in Holland was “Seriously? They’re blacked-up? In afro wigs? You’re kidding, right?” Coming from the UK where the Black and White Minstrels were given short shrift some time ago and assigned to the pile of once embraced characters now branded ‘politically incorrect’, Zwarte Piet made my PC alarm ring louder than the herald angels sing. To the non-local eye, he is an anachronism from a time when being sensitive to racial background simply wasn’t a consideration.

Opinion about Zwarte Piet is divided, even in Holland, with those complaining that the tradition is racist often being accused of trying to spoil was is just a bit of historically rooted, seasonal fun. Political correctness aside (hard as it is), what is obvious is that Zwarte Piet has the potential to scare the Christmas cheer out of small children like a festive Papa Lazarou. Our host in Holland (the very lovely Bee and Barlie’s Books) has, as a resident, been subjected to Piet overload. She describes how her daughter was left traumatised after a troop of “beyond black … and very, very tall” Zwarte Pieten visited the local school – “She came out and just jumped pretty much up onto my chest. Last time I saw her like that was Halloween”. That sounds like great Christmas fun. Of course there are exceptions. My 4-year-old was more than happy to meet someone who so filled her hands with sweets that she had to steer her scooter using her wrists.

Zwarte Piet is an unsettling character on several levels and makes any jitters about a scary Santa pale in comparison (if you’ll pardon the pun). Both are in the tradition of the grotesque characters that pepper our folklore and history and show that there’s nothing we like more then to be a little bit scared, even at the merriest time of the year. So deck your halls and rest ye merry but remember to bolt the door and block the chimney.

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