A few years ago I travelled to Amsterdam to see what Christmas was really like that country. You can read all the books and research the internet, but there is nothing like actually being there, seeing the people zoom by on their bikes with a Christmas tree on back, passing bakeries with life size St. Nicholas cookies in their windows and enjoying the sights and aromas of this magical city.
I stayed at the Tulip Hotel across the cobbled steets from St. Nicholas Church. How perfect is that! I bough a bouquet of pine and flowers from a boat on the canal. I would keep it in my room and enjoy the scents each day upon returning. I visited the Rijksmuseum and spent hours absorbing the art of the world’s greatest masters. It was amazing to be on this trip alone and have the time to do everything I wanted.
But it’s time to await the arrival of St. Nicholas.
Ahhh, there he is. He comes on a boat in the canal accompanied by Black Peter, his sidekick. He rides a white stallion through the city streets lined with families and shopkeepers who have closed their businesses to greet their St. Nicholas and he will stop at schools to hand out candies to the children and listen to their Christmas wishes. This is a sight to behold!
Later that week, I took a train to Gouda to see the famous lighting of the christmas tree in the town square. The enomorous trees is donated by Norway and trimmed with thousands of lights which will be turned on during the lighting ceremony by the mayor of the town. We all know Gouda cheese, but did you know that Gouda is more famous for its candles? Consquently, on this night, all the shops and windows surrounding the town square have candles in their windows. Thousands upon thousands of people come to this little town from all over the world for this ceremony. We drink wine while we wait for the festivities to begin and to keep warm. Then everyone gets a candle with a little paper skirt, they are lit all at the same time and our voices rise in harmony, and all different languages, to sing Silent Night. As the tears fall on my cheek, I feel so blessed to be here at this moment, in this collective celebration of Christmas. Then the mayor lights the tree and the town sqaure is lit up with a dark sky overhead and hundreds of candles in the nearby windows.
When I returned home, I did a painting of Sinter Klass on his white horse as he passed the shops, streets and bakeries of Amsterdam. I will never forget this trip to Amsterdam. Painting the picture, and writing this story, enables me to remember and relive those magical days again and again. Christmas is a magical and holy time all round the world, especially in Amsterdam.