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Rethink Column: Sint Paper Doll


I glanced at the clock at night, and it blinked 2:03 in green. I jumped out of bed and tiptoed to the kitchen. I had forgotten to drink the milk which my daughter had left on the window-pane for Sinterklaas. There in the dark I heard the four year old breathe, cuddled with her stuffed dog. On the window pane shad had ‘prayed’ on a tiny pink shoe, with a song for Saint Nicholas, so he would bless her with a present. We had just moved to the Netherlands from Finland. Naturally she loved Sinterklaas tradition. With all that mystery, theatre and magic, who wouldn’t?!

Slowly but surely we turned into Amsterdammers. You can be whoever you want, dress as you want and you are always respected and precious. Life was sweet and forgiving. Until our second Sinterklaas. Now we came to realise that Sinterklaas is time of hidden aggression. People felt afraid that their tradition is being threatened, and fear brings out aggression. Traditions can sometimes turn against their cause, which is to add color to our lives and bring us together.

At Rethink office in Amsterdam, we bought cookies, poured hot tea and started thinking what can we do about a nice thing turned bad. We started research on the elements: first the history of the real man, second the Saint Nicholas traditions during 1700 years, and third are the different traditions around the world.

We realised that the conflict around Sinterklaas comes because he has been frozen into a very specific image and history shows that even in the Netherlands, the tradition has changed all the time. In June 2017 Amina Belkasmi, the Dutch graphic designer in Geneva started sketching. In August Noah Hilhorst the young East-Amsterdammer cultural producer continued research and developing the concept. And the project leader of Rethink, me Umayya- had more biscuits and tea and collaborated with Helsinki too (Finland being the official country of Santa). We decided that we are keeping the spirit of Saint Nicholas: kindness, gentleness and respect. We laughed a lot during the 6 month process of the making of this card, producing 3 versions: in Dutch, English and Finnish. And, voila’ he is here today.

Forget your anger, forget your sins! We hope that Sinterklaas brings you as much joy as he brought us during this process!

Umayya Abu-Hanna

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