The Special Christmas Feast

Note: You sent me so many positive responses to the Hansje story of two weeks ago, I am posting another excerpt from my children’s story style autobiography. It is set in Nazi occupied Holland at Christmas, 1944, when I, Hansje, was six years old. (With this post I’m taking a blogging break until the New Year. See you then!)

One day, Hansje’s Papa told him that he had a surprise. “I bought some special cheese called Slide cheese. We will have it for our Christmas feast.”

Hansje thought he maybe, sort of, remembered tasting cheese once before, and liking it very much. He didn’t know what a Christmas feast was, but it sounded really good, so he could hardly wait for Christmas.

candlesb&wOn Christmas Eve Papa closed the blackout curtains and Mama lit the candles on the tiny Christmas tree. They sat close to the coal heater and sang some Christmas carols. Then Mama laid three slices of bun on top of the coal heater to warm up while Papa read the Christmas story from the Children’s Bible. When the buns were warm, she put them on a plate on the side table. Then Papa pulled a small, flat package from his jacket pocket and laid it on the plate, too.

Hansje could hardly wait, but first they folded their hands, closed their eyes, and Papa thanked God for the food and asked Him to bless the special Christmas feast.

Then he took the flat package, opened it carefully, and there on his hand lay a piece of Slide cheese just the right size to cover a slice of bun. He laid it carefully on a bun and said, “Now watch closely so you’ll know how to eat this special Slide cheese.”

He held the bread and cheese to his nose and sniffed it. Hansje’s mouth watered just watching him. Then he held the bread and cheese in front of his mouth, and slowly and carefully put it into his mouth. But, just as it was going in, his front teeth caught the edge of the cheese and slid it back. Then he took a bite, not of the cheese, just the bun. He chewed it with his eyes closed, obviously enjoying it a lot.

Next it was Mama’s turn. She did the same thing, sliding the cheese back and eating only a bit of bun. At last it was Hansje’s turn. Both Mama and Papa hovered near to make sure he did everything right. He sniffed the cheese, slid it back with his teeth, bit off a piece of bun, and chewed it with his eyes closed.

Then it was Papa’s turn again. By the time they finished those three slices of bun, the candles had almost burned out, and at the end they still had the piece of Slide cheese.

“Tomorrow is Christmas Day and we will do this again,” he said, “but with the last piece of bun we will cut the Slide cheese into three pieces and actually eat it!”

And that is what they did.
It was the best Christmas feast Hansje could remember!


Black Friday Shopping Frenzy

Something stirred in my memory as I watched the TV news two weeks ago. I had seen a similar event nearly fifty years earlier among the Canela people of Brazil, but with a vastly different outcome.

The Mayhem
The TV news showed crowds of bargain hunting shoppers bursting into stores when the doors opened on Black Friday, to begin a shopping frenzy—greedily grasping and grabbing, and at times wresting and wrenching items out of the hands of other shoppers. Sometimes even wrestling and punching other shoppers.

Candy Loving Canela Kids

Candy Loving Canela Kids

The Memory
That’s when I remembered one of the times we returned to the Canela after having been away for several months. A number of small boys had whacked down the weeds around our house and as a gesture of appreciation, I gave each of them a handful of paper wrapped candy—a highly prized and rare treat for them.

As all the weed whackers were receiving their candy, more kids came running up. Since I had some candy left over, I gave a yell and threw the last few dozen candies high in the air to fly towards the arriving group of kids. Instant pandemonium—kids greedily grabbed, grasped, wrested, wrenched, and at times almost wrestled other kids to get a candy.

The Rebuke
It was over in an instant, but the damage was done. Several village elders who had been sitting on a bench at our house watching, got up and walked toward me, shaking their heads. They came up to me, their faces serious,

“No, no. Don’t throw candies at the kids as if you were throwing scraps at a flock of chickens. They are people, Canela people. You should have told them to line up, and then give each one a candy so there is no disorderly conduct like this.”

They went on to scold me for provoking their grandkids into shameful, disrespectful behaviour. “What if a Brazilian from the city had seen this? They would have thought they were among uncivilized savages. Please don’t do this again.”

The Reactions
That was the early-years-among-the-Canela memory that floated into my mind as I watched the news. But what a different reaction! Instead of elders rebuking this behaviour, North American merchants were delighted, as were the TV media that gleefully showed the mayhem, with no thought of who else in the world might see this shameful, disrespectful behaviour.

If Canelas were to see this North American Black Friday madness on television, they would pity Jo and me for having to live among such uncivilized savages.

They might also ask themselves, “Why do countries that have had the Bible in their own language for many generations, still have people that act worse than we did before we even had a Bible in our language?

The Questions
I need to ask myself some questions too.

  • How much am I being influenced by my materialistic, things-oriented culture?
  • Am I showing any signs of turning into a greedy, grasping, grabbing type of shopper, constantly searching for the best deal?
  • Am I becoming more dissatisfied with the stuff I have, wanting something more, something better, something nicer?
  • Would the best antidote for this poison be to deliberately give things away, and simplify our lives instead of accumulating more stuff?

The Answers
Probably Yes to all these questions.



Hansje and the Truck of Terror–A Story From My Childhood

n the Netherlands, my Dad’s name was Hans and mine was Hansje (little Hans). When we emigrated to Canada my Dad changed his name to John and mine to Jack. The Dutch Santa Claus is called Sinterklaas or St. Nicholaas,  and his December 5th  birthday is celebrated with parties and gift giving. The first 30 chapters of the autobiography I’m writing cover my twelve years of childhood and are in the form of children’s stories about Hansje. Here is one such story just in time for Sinterklaas this Saturday:

The Truck of Terror
Poor Hansje was down on his knees and elbows, his hands clasped in prayer, his eyes tightly shut and his lips were whispering, “Help me. Please help me. Help me.” The frozen steel floor of the army truck sucked the warmth from his knees and forearms. His seven-year-old body shivered as much from cold as from fear.

Hansje was not alone, the truck was packed with several dozen other children about his own age. But while he was crying and praying desperately, they were happy, excited, laughing, talking and singing. Why was Hansje the only one who was terrified, down on the floor, praying anxiously for help—help that didn’t come. What was happening?

The Confusion
Hansje’s Mama had told him many, many times, “Don’t ever get into a car or on a truck that is driven by someone you don’t know.” But this time, his Mama was the very person who insisted that he climb on that truck. Hansje had shouted, “No, no! I don’t want to go!”

But she sternly said, “Don’t be so silly, Hansje.” And when a big soldier picked him up and lifted him onto the back of the truck, she had even smiled at the soldier.

Hansje couldn’t understand it. He was so confused. He kept praying, “Help me. Help me.” But instead of help, a soldier slammed the end gate shut, the diesel motor rumbled and roared into life, and with a jerk and a tooting of the horn, they were traveling down the street, out of his neighbourhood, and away from Hansje’s home—no help, no hope.

KRO Radio Station, Hilversum

KRO Radio Station, Hilversum

After a while the truck stopped. Hansje stood up and jumped down to the ground with the other children. He looked around, there were other army trucks and lots more children jumping out. He saw the building beyond the trucks, and suddenly a wave of relief flooded over him. It was the KRO radio station studio. He had been there before. It was only a few blocks from his neighbourhood. He wiped away his tears. He knew where he was. He was safe.

The Sinterklaas Party
He followed the crowd of excited children into the building and sat with hundreds of others in the huge auditorium, looking down on the brightly lit stage.

A man walked to the microphone on the stage and said, “Today is December the 5th, the first Sinterklaas day since the end of the war. Sinterklaas is on his way. He will soon be with us. Let’s sing to welcome him!”

Hansje loudly sang the Dutch Santa Claus songs along with all the other kids, all his fears forgotten.
Zie, ginds komt de stoomboot uit Spanje weer aan.
Hij brengt on St. Nicholaas, ik zie hem al staan.
“Look, there is the steamship coming from Spain,
It brings us St Nicholas, I can see him standing there.”

SinterklaasAfter a few more Sinterklaas songs, the great white-bearded saint strode onto the stage to much applause and shouting by Hansje and the other kids. He wore his bishop’s red and gold robes, a tall, red mitre hat with a gold cross on his head, and held a golden crosier staff in hand. His black servant, Zwarte Piet followed him.

After more singing, every child received a bag of candy and a small present. What a party! And then, it was all over. Hansje was tired but happy.

More Fear
But as the kids crowded around the trucks, Hansje’s fears crowded his mind. What if he got on the wrong truck? What if they made him get out at the wrong place? How would he ever get home?

No more trucks, Hansje thought. He sidled quietly to the edge of the crowd, crossed the dark sidewalk, then darted across the main road, and jogged towards his own neighbourhood. After several blocks he saw the corner to his own street. A few minutes later he was home. Safe at home, and with candy!

A Lesson in Trust
That night Hansje added a line to his bedtime prayer, “And thank You for keeping me safe on that truck. Help me to remember that You are always with me. Amen.”