zondag 20 januari 2013


The Dutch celebrate Saint Nicholas' Eve at December 5.  Some years ago I was looking for a translation of a traditional Dutch Saint Nicholas song, to share with North American colleagues.  For most songs I could not find a satisfactory translation.  Available translations made poor English, didn't rhyme, could not be sung, lacked the right atmosphere or were inaccurate.  I decided to translate a few songs myself.  To assist in singing, I have included sound samples from Jan Wolters' Free Saint Nicholas Songs with each translation.

Saint Nicholas is a legendary figure, a product of our collective imagination.  He roots into pagan times but over the centuries he picked up new elements during early Christianity, the Spanish rule over the Low Countries, and the industrial revolution.

The Netherlands have a recurring debate about the political correctness of Saint Nicholas.  His pedagogic views are outdated and he is accompanied by black servants, the so-called Black Petes.  Could these people be slaves?  Could we be celebrating the return of a slave owner?  Shouldn't we change the appearance of Saint Nicholas' companions to avoid such connotations? - Zwarte Pieten

I take the following position: The mentioned sentiments are sincere, but Saint Nicholas is a mythological character and will be what we believe him to be.  The same holds for the Black Petes.  We may portray them as confederates from the Spanish Reconquista, we may identify them with the black ravens that went with Wodan, or we may attribute their color to their habit to climb up and down the chimneys.  Saint Nicholas and the Black Petes are not for real, so there is no absolute truth.  We are free to decide ourselves.  Break free and go enjoy the ancient songs ...  

Saint Nicholas is celebrated in many forms all around the world, each version having its own favorite songs.  Doug Anderson’s website The Hymns and Carols of Christmas includes (references to) an impressive number of translations of these traditional songs.  

If you have questions or comments, you may leave me a message, mail me at rtlam@zeelandnet.nl or contact me through my page at LinkedIn.

Ruben 't Lam - Nederlandse Sinterklaasliedjes vertaald in het Engels - Sint Nicolaas

Copyright © 2013 by Ruben 't Lam, all rights reserved. The translated texts in this blog may be freely shared among individuals, but may not be republished in any medium without my express written consent.