Tuesday, August 9, 2022

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Joe's Neighborhood

Sinterklaas and the mall Santa


The decorated tree, the sleigh that flies, the landing on the roof with a bag of toys, the chimney just wide enough and, of course, “On, Comet! On, Cupid! On, Donder and Blitzen.” Stir that all together, and you get Christmas. Right? Ah, yes, and Santa. Don’t forget Santa.

This picture is slightly confusing in this chimney-less era, and with the early arrival of mall Santas at Merle Hay, Valley West, Southridge and Jordan Creek. I love those mall Santas, by the way. I go to the malls just to watch these white-bearded heroes deal with anxious and partially deranged parents (whom of which I used to be). You should go check them out.

Jerry Julian is a mall Santa for several months every year up at Rochester, Minn. He’s done it for years. If you are ever fortunate enough to see him, he is the spitting image of Santa. Which is great, I suppose, unless you’re on a date with him. Yup, even in the dead of summer, he does not drop his Santa persona. He will be perched on his Harley in red suspender pants with his long white beard tucked into his shirt waiting for the light to change. Suddenly, he’ll be spotted by the kids in an adjacent car. The kids go wild because, of course, he’s Santa. And Jerry? He’ll lean from his bike and knock patiently on the driver’s window. The startled mom will slowly roll down the window, expecting a car-jacking by a crazed bearded man. Jerry, with his gentle elfish smile, will hand small Santa rings through the window and admonish the kids and mom to be good. There are worse things to do in this world.

But everyone knows that Santa arrives by landing on the roof and coming down a chimney. Not so in Holland, where Santa Claus was born. Sinterklaas comes from Spain. On a boat. And he arrives in mid-November with a retinue of helpers called Zwarte Pieten, or Black Petes. No North Pole, no sled with reindeer, no elves. Okay, is this even the same guy? I needed to check this out.

So, down to the harbor I go.

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joes1Thousands of children line the harbor. Many are dressed as Black Petes — the court jester of all these shenanigans. You should know that the Zwarte Pieten are embroiled in a nation-wide debate about whether the black-faced depiction is a racial caricature. Even the United Nations is involved. However, the costumed children of all colors seem unaware of the turmoil on this day as they dance and laugh to the music of the children’s choir singing on the other side of the harbor. Time passes, as 60,000 of us look with diminishing hope to the harbor entrance, longing for the boat from Spain. The smallest children are beginning to melt down. I feel like melting down. At last, a murmur goes up. We look to the sea. And one child, perched high on his father’s shoulders, sees the first ship rounding into the harbor.

joes2Ship after ship arrives, each filled with Zwarte Pieten and full bands and all playing raucous music to which the thousands of people bob and sway. But no Sinterklaas.

Personally, I give up all hope. It is time for all these parents to turn to their crazed children (who miraculously are not falling into the harbor), and tell them there will be no Sinterklaas this year. But then it happens. The last ship arrives, and there, standing on the roof of the pilot house, is Sinterklaas. Christmas is saved.

And if that isn’t enough, Sinterklaas then gets on a white horse and parades through the town. We all wave with joy. And he waves back.


Jerry Julian recently wrote of his arrival the other day in Rochester, Minn., to begin his job as a mall Santa. He tells of flying in on a small plane from Colorado. However, he makes no mention of welcoming crowds. Nor does he mention raucous bands playing on the plane or beautiful white horses prancing on the boulevard. Instead, Jerry ate lunch at a fast food joint upon arrival. A girl of 18 approached and wanted a picture with Santa. The girl wondered if Jerry was at Rochester for medical treatment at the Mayo Clinic. With a twinkle in his eye, he said that he did need a visit with Dr. Phil. She smiled. He then asked the same question of her — “her face became stone cold in reality.” Jerry then wrote of her response in his cryptic and creative manner that says everything you need to know.


“I am really sick and have been for five years, only now it has gotten worse. They have chemo andradiation planned, so it is going to be pretty tough this year to make it through. She mentioned the glass angel Santa gave to her four years ago, and she still has it — Thank You. Santa handed out the red ribbon of being on Santa’s Nice List. Santa asked if she has a signed photo from Santa? Well, she does now. Hard to think that she is so upbeat, yet there is bad JU-JU going on inside. Evening thoughts with her name were shared out to the Universe.”

Yup, I think Sinterklaas has finally arrived. CV

Joe Weeg spent 31 years bumping around this town as a prosecutor for the Polk County Attorney’s Office. Now retired, his wife is assisting in the prosecution of war criminals in the Netherlands for several months. He’s along for the ride and writes about being an Iowan in Europe on his blog at www.joesneighborhood.com.

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