ISTANBUL – Dutch Turks who live in Turkey pass the tradition of Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas) on to their children. ‘I celebrated Sinterklaas in the Netherlands when I was little, so it’s nice to get my children acquainted with it too’, says one of them, Nermin Celik (38). If you want to see ‘Sint’ in Turkey, can go to the Dutch consulate in Istanbul and the embassy in the capital, Ankara.
Hüseyin Celik (38), husband of Nermin and father of three children between 2 and 8 years old, finds it a pity that in Turkey Sinterklaas is purely a children’s celebration. He was born and raised in Rotterdam, and Nermin lived there for thirty years. The couple moved to Istanbul three years ago, for Hüseyin’s work. Hüseyin: ‘In the Netherlands we also celebrated Sinterklaas evening, with presents. I miss that, and the whole atmosphere that comes with it. I am grateful that we can go to the consulate with the children, so we can at least show them who Sint is.’
Besides Sinterklaas, Nermin and Hüseyin also still celebrate Easter now that they live in Turkey. Not so much for the Christian tradition, says Nermin: ‘We hide eggs for the children. I think we will return to the Netherlands within a few years, so for the children it’s practical if they stay in touch with Dutch culture. Then they can easily join in again later.’
‘Sinterklaas celebration in Istanbul’, she adds, ‘is comparable to Sinterklaas celebration for children of employees in Dutch companies, when the children come to their parents’ work, where Sinterklaas comes and distributes candy and presents. Sinterklaas for one day.’
That one day, this year on 3 December, starts with the arrival of the Sint at the Dutch consulate at Istiklal Boulevard, the busiest shopping street of Istanbul. Nermin: ‘The locals find it very strange. They think: is that Santa Claus? It’s very nice to be part of the group of people who know exactly who Sinterklaas is.’ Semiha Ünal (44) joined Sint for a few times at Istiklal, as one of his helpers. ‘Many Turks make pictures. They don’t know Sinterklaas, which is strange because he was actually born in Turkey.’
After that there are presents, and typical Sinterklaas candy, brought over from the Netherlands. What started twenty years ago as a small party with ten kids attending, now attracts about 120 children, both Dutch children of consulate personnel and expats, as well as kids of Turkish Dutch parents.
For Semiha, who lived in the Netherlands from age one to eighteen, joining the Sinterklaas celebration was an emotional moment: ‘For more than twenty years I have had to miss the Sinterklaas atmosphere, until I moved from a smaller town to Istanbul three years ago. Via the Dutch club I was able to sign up as Sint’s helper. I was as happy as a kid!’
She is sad that this year she won’t wear her typical make up and funny clothes that Sint’s helpers always wear: she has trouble with her ankle. Semiha: ‘When I am Sint’s helper, I want to do it right. I can’t jump around now.’