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6th December

Sinterklaas or to believe or not to believe

When Sinterklaas, the Dutch version of Santa Claus, came to our house for the first time I was deeply impressed by the way in which the distinguished old man entered our living room. Lightly hunched, but with stately yet firm steps. After all he was hundreds of years old.

I marvelled at his white beard, the red mitre and cloak, the bishop’s ring with the shiny ruby placed over his white glove, the elegant way he wielded his sceptre. Most of all I was struck by the dignified tone in which he spoke, slowly and with a low voice, amiable yet firm at the same time. To me Sinterklaas exuded natural authority, not that at the age of five I was able to describe it that way. But I sensed it.

Therefore, I was stunned when a couple of years later my mother told me that Sinterklaas did not exist, that she had put the candies in the shoes my siblings and I had placed in front of the fireplace, and that she had bought the gifts we received on the morning of December sixth.

Not once had my faith in him wavered, not even when I saw two versions of Sinterklaas the same morning, one wearing chunky boots instead of velvet slippers and another who had a distinctly Rotterdam accent, both very different from the Sinterklaas I had encountered in our living room.

I asked my mother if God was also a made-up story. My mother, a firm believer, told me that God was real and always looked after us. She explained that Sinterklaas was part of old Dutch folklore meant to give children pleasure and excitement.

But a seed of doubt had been planted in my head, and from then on I questioned what grownups would tell me. I’ve continued this critical attitude. Throughout my life I have questioned almost everything including the questioning itself. To me, believing is a voluntary descent into what is almost always a delusion.

I’m starting to wonder though if my bewilderment when I heard that Sinterklaas didn’t exist was not only because my parents had lied to me, but above all because I had been so gullible. Perhaps my being sceptical is not only a rational way to approach life, but also a protection against my hidden desire to believe.

Because I do want to believe—in the power of kindness, the strength of collaboration, and the vital importance of friendship.

And why not Sinterklaas, whichever form he may take.

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