Merry-ChristmasSpecial note: If you’re reading this and you’re Dutch or Antillean, I apologize for any errors or misunderstandings. Feel free to use the comments to make additions or corrections.

Perhaps it goes without saying, but Christmas in the Dutch Caribbean is somewhat different from Christmas in the United States. In the States, for example, we have Santa Claus, who is something of an Americanized version of the Dutch Sinterklaas, both of whom are fableized and secularized versions of Saint Nicholas.

Sinterklaas doesn’t arrive in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve by reindeer-drawn sleigh. Instead he comes by steamboat from Spain (that’s where he lives–not the North Pole) in the middle of November, and so kicks off the holiday season. Of course, we have Thanksgiving and Black Friday for that in the U.S.

Sinterklaas does bring gifts for children, who place their shoes, not stockings, by the fireplace as receptacles. Sinterklaas also keeps track of which kids are which, naughty-and-nice-wise–has the list with him when he gets off the steamboat. And Sinterklaas has helpers, but they’re not elves, and as near as I can tell, they’re not involved in the manufacture of toys. Sinterklaas’s helpers are called Black Petes (Zwarte Pieten in Dutch).

According to legend, the original Black Pete was a Moorish slave whose freedom was purchased by Saint Nicholas, for which Pete was so grateful that he stayed on to help the Saint. Over the years, for reasons that are not clear to me, Black Petes have multiplied, so that today Sinterklaas arrives with a whole crew of Petes (here’s some video of his arrival here in Bonaire). In the not-so-old days, Pete comes along with St. Nick to punish the bad children (in the harsher versions, he might even put them in his toy sack and carry them back to Spain!). These days, he’s more likely to just toss candy around. And these days, he might be black because he’s going up and down chimneys all the time and not because he’s actually black. Of course, here in Bonaire–and nowadays in the Netherlands where wood-burning fireplaces are getting banned–this chimney story is often hard to pass off.

One thing Santa and Sinterklaas definitely have in common is that they bear almost no resemblance to the actual Saint Nicholas, who was, after all, a real person and not a fictional magical character. He was a bishop in the early church and actually one of the signatories to the first Nicene Creed–usually regarded as the defining statement of the irreducible minimum of orthodox Christianity. He was known for secret deeds of charity, and one example is that he may have put coins in the shoes of people who left them out for that very purpose (I just pause here to note that it’s not really possible to be known for secret deeds).

The thing to notice about the actual Nicholas of Myra is that being a party to the Nicene Creed gets to the heart of the reality that Christmas is actually supposed to celebrate–the reality of the incarnation of the eternal Son of God in the person of Jesus. A man named Arius was teaching that the Son of God was a created being, not the second person of the eternal Trinity, and it was the Council of Nicaea that formally rejected that idea as heresy and established the twin doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation (that Jesus is fully God and fully human) as essential to the true gospel. In this way, it seems appropriate to me to associate Saint Nicholas with Christmas, even if his modern fictionalized versions don’t make the connection.

In Other News…

Our own Christmas celebration at IBC will include a Christmas Eve concert, which I am told is a popular event here in Bonaire. We’re bringing in extra chairs for it. Please pray that it will be an occasion for a clear presentation of the gospel. Also, for preaching during the advent season, I have adapted and expanded the little article I wrote for CBC’s Christmas Concert last year into a series titled “Christmas Changes Everything.” You can listen to these sermons on the IBC audio page.

On December 8, we had a special service to formally install me as the Pastor here at IBC. Byron and Jared were here from Nashville, and Byron gave an encouraging message about various ways the congregation here could support their new pastor. Jon and Charlene Kever also came down from Michigan, and Jon gave a short testimony about how God has used our friendship in his life over the years. After the service, we had a fantastic cookout “dinner on the grounds” sort of thing. One lady said, “It was church at its best,” and I tend to agree. What an encouraging warm welcome I have received. Here are a few photos from the day.CongregationPanoJohn_5657Byron_5658IMG_9859Sigfried_5665

.

I also want to say a giant Thank You to Larry Stack, who sent a gift along with Byron…DSCF7708Web

After I picked myself up off the floor, I read the card Larry sent along with the camera, which placed a condition on the gift, “that you include underwater photographs in your posts.” That’s right, it’s an underwater camera! So here you go, Larry–a few of my first underwater shots (the first one is just in the water, not under). I hope these will stimulate your scuba nerve.

DSC_0079

DSC_0077

DSC_0118
Last but not least, here’s a link to a photo album of Jon & Charlene’s visit.

Advertisements