Foreign Cultures Rule

So at this point I'm most of the way through my tour of Europe, and I'm currently staying in Rotterdam (just outside of Amsterdam). David '15 and I took a bike ride into the city center yesterday and found out that we happened to be in town the same day that Sinterclaas was arriving! Woo-hoo! Except that this Dutch version of Santa has a few twists.

There was a lit stage with a children's choir on the shore of a large river, and a crowd had gathered around. As we watched, he arrived in the harbor on a boat! The boat was flying the Spanish flag - Dutch tradition tells that he comes from Spain every year. It gets weirder, though. He wears a bishop's hat here. And all of his helpers are white, but have their faces painted to look like Africans. In America this would be termed racist but nobody seems to take offense to this.

In addition, the helpers hand out unwrapped candy to the kids in the crowd. Again, lawsuit material in America but apparently people don't habitually poison candy here. I had some (don't look at me like that, it was offered and I didn't take it from a little kid) and it was good if stale. Certainly not poisoned.

Sinterklaas is right in the middle there, getting off the boat

So Sinterklaas hangs out in Holland for a while I guess and the children get their presents on 5/12. (December the fifth. I've gotten into the habit of writing dates European-style.) I think it's a pretty cool tradition if you look past the possibly racially offensive part.

I've enjoyed a few other cultural celebrations in Europe as well. David and I arrived in Barcelona just in time for the observance of La Merce, a huge citywide celebration in honor of their patron saint. Among other things, it involved giant statue parades, pyromusicals, and best of all, the Correfoc.


Pictured: Giant statue parades, pyromusicals, and unimpressive photography skills

Translated literally, "Correfoc" means "fire run". It's a huge parade of people in devil costumes running down the street holding spinning sparklers. The sparklers are 10x the strength of the ones you'd find in America so they shoot sparks everywhere. Local teens like to form circles around the devils and dance under the raining sparks. And of course we joined in!

The sparks do hurt if they hit your skin so you have to cover up. They actually melted holes in my synthetic sweatshirt (I didn't have anything cotton to wear). But - need I say it? - this would again be lawsuit material in America. Someone would get a spark in the eye and sue. This is why we can't have cool celebrations like this back in the States.
Dancing around with the Spanish teens, sparks raining down on me...the Correfoc was one of my best experiences in Europe so far.

If you want to see a short clip I took of the Correfoc:

Basically, here's what I'm saying: Other cultures rule. I've enjoyed experiencing them. Try it sometime!

< Derek >
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