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Leisure and folklore in the 17th century

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...back2 the DutchFood-page
Palm Sunday (Palmpasen)
Croquet (Malie)
Language of the windmill's (Molentaal)
Lazybones (Luilak)
Traditional costumes (Klederdracht)
Martinmas (Sint Maarten)
Children's clothes (Kinderkleding)
Saint Nicolas (Sinterklaas)
Cruel games
Traditions about death
Children's bishop (de kinderbischop)
Tobacco (Tabak)
Traditional death announcements (Lijkkstrootjes)
Christmas (Kerstmis)
The music-tavern (musico)
Epiphany (Driekoningen)


Dear friends,
During the last few months I have been working on this new series, called Leisure & Folklore.
I have tried to find some interesting items about games, habits and traditional festivities. It’s just a glimpse on the leisure and folklore of our Dutch ancestors. My special appreciation goes to Liz Johnson for all her assistance and advice.

Cor Snabel, 2002

Language of the windmills (molentaal)
The means of communication in the old days were limited. The miller, however, could send messages to the people in the neighborhood by setting the wings of his windmill in a specific position. Those who understood the language of the windmill, could read joy, mourning, warnings, protests and many other messages.

The miller could set the wings of his windmill in four basic positions. First, the working position: after a day’s work, one wings was set vertically in front the body of the windmill. Early in the morning, the miller could attach the first sail on the wing more easily, while working from the ground or from the balcony.
If the mill was stopped for any reason during some time, the wings were set in a position of 45 degrees to the horizon, like the St. Andrew’s Cross. This position was called crosswise (overkruis). This position limited the chances of being struck by lightning. If the miller kept the sails on de wings while crosswise, that meant he was protesting about something.

If the wings were stopped just ahead of the working position, everyone knew there was something to celebrate. This position was called coming (komend). Depending on the decorations on the wings or the way the sail was attached, people could see whether this concerned a wedding, a birth, or another festivity.
Letting the wings pass the working position before stopping the windmill, was called going (gaand). So if the wing had passed the body of the windmill, it meant someone had died.

The miller knew two more positions for the wings; both were warning signs. If the millstones of the corn mill had to be sharpened, the miller stopped the windmill between going and crosswise, so the farmers knew, that they could not bring any corn. The last position, between crosswise and joy, was a warning, that the windmill was out of order due to damage, and that the miller needed help.

Even in W.W.II this “molentaal” saved many lives; the millers used specific signs to warn the farmers, who were hiding Jews or fugitives, that the Gestapo was about to start a razzia in the area.
Croquet (malie)
Malie was a very popular game in the 17th century. It was, however, a game for the more privileged. It is almost similar to the game of croquet, as is still played today. It was played on a large elongated field. Along a winding path, several small gates, made of bended iron, were situated. The only tools necessary were a small ball and a kind of hammer. This hammer was made of a tough, bending stick with a velvet handle and on the opposite side a wooden hammerhead, covered with iron. Two teams had to guide the ball along the path and through the gates and the team who needed the fewest amount of strikes, was the winner.

Almost all cities had a malie-field or paille-maille built, and some must have been very beautiful, with lanes, ponds and flowerbeds. As the popularity of malie grew, even taverns were built next to the tracks.

In some cities it is still easy to find out where they were located. The well-known Pall Mall Street in London reminds us where the paille-maille track was situated. In The Hague we still have a large field called Malieveld, which is now used to accommodate circuses, fairs or even pop concerts. In 1998, I stood on the Malieveld during a concert of the Rolling Stones.
The fair (kermis) part 1
The Dutch words “kerkmis” and “kermis” are almost identical. The first means “church-mass” and the second means “fair”. The fair probably originated from the annual commemoration of the consecration of the church, so the number of fairs was equal to the number of churches in town. Sometimes even the convents had their own fairs. It’s obvious, that the fairs lost their original character due to the Reformation. However, for the people the fair was so important that they wanted to maintain their own annual worldly feast. And they did, even until this present day.

During the fair the entrances and gates of the villages and towns carried a red cross, the sign for freedom and safe-conduct since the Middle Ages. The regulations of the guilds were put aside; every hawker and miracle-doctor was free to do business.

The preparations for the fair put the whole township upside down. The “strange people” with their peculiar gypsy way of life took over part of the market place to build their acts. There were festoons on the City Hall, and preparations were made for the big parade. The glorious parade of the guilds was the opening; everyone was present to see the armed Civic Guards in full regalia, wearing satin trousers and silk stockings, wide cloaks around their shoulders and feathers on their hats.
The streets and squares were filled with dozens of colorful stalls, where the common merchandise was sold, but also the more luxurious silver-, glass-, toys-, art- and drapery stalls had their public exhibits, to look at and to buy.

On a quiet corner of the fair the glassblower had his audience under a spell. With open mouth and silent as a mouse the fairgoers saw him create every possible form out of delicate glass: flowers, birds or even little ships.

The one who could always count on a curious audience was the quack, the miracle doctor; eloquent and with the use of many (semi) Latin words, he knew how to cure any sickness or complaints. After his speech, he did not need much persuasion to sell all kinds of pills, balm, ointments, potions and powders to the credulous crowd.
Sometimes he had to perform too; if his potions did not work on toothache, he was always ready to pull some teeth.

The fair (Kermis) part 2
Every fair had its traveling artists, like the musician with the barrel organ, the very popular bagpipes, or the troubadour with his poems on music. And of course the fire-eater and sword swallower. If you can believe the chroniclers of those days some artists were pure wizards. A British artist called Richardson performed on 17th century Dutch fairs with a fantastic act. He began by dripping melted sulphur on his tongue, continued by chewing on some red-hot coal, and ended his performance by drinking a mug with melted glass. And he did not even blink an eye.
We all know about exotic animals, but hardly anybody in the Golden Age had ever seen a tiger or a lion, an elephant or a bear, so these animals had as much public attention as the horse with six legs or the sheep with two heads.
The freak show was very popular in those days. Extremely tall people, like Gerrit Bastiaansz. de Hals, who was 8.5 feet tall, were exploited, as were midgets, the bearded woman and the woman with shark’s skin. People with all kinds of deformities and amputations showed how they did complicated manual labor with their feet.
During the annual fair traveling acting groups gave, under primitive conditions, performances of dramatic plays, preferably as realistic as possible. Decapitations, hanging, torture and whipping of the villain were always part of the play in order to keep the attention of the audience.

For at the other side of the marketplace, the juggler showed his skills, or a tightrope walker, who scared the spectators by walking high above the crowd on a rope, which was fastened between the church and the City hall.
An innocent attraction was the puppet theatre, and this was not only for the children. Even the Dutch children of the 21st century know the puppets Jan Klaasen and Katrijn. Jan Klaaszoon was a former horn blower in the army of Willem III and he married Catarina Pieters in 1687. This couple had such a bad marriage, that the whole neighborhood witnessed their fights and arguments every single day. In 1690 they played the leading part in every puppet theatre in Holland and no explanation is needed to describe what kind of words were used in these performances. Even till this day Jan Klaasen and Katrijn are having their fights.

The fair (kermis) part 3
In every annual fair, sporting events were very popular too: from boxing matches to horse races, from power lifting to stilt walking. At the village fairs in Friesland "ring-steken" was folk sport number one. Standing on a speeding horse-drawn wagon, or sitting on horseback, with a long stick as only tool, one had to pick up a small ring, which was hung on a branch above the road. The champion was allowed to pick his Queen of the fair. Even now the game of ring-steken is performed on special occasions.

Apart from the sporting events for men, the village fairs also engaged in "sporting" with animals, like the dogfights and cockfights. I suppose all of you have seen images of those cruel fights, with people yelling and betting around the arena. Nothing has changed ever since.

Let's pick a more peaceful subject to end this description of the 17th century fair: food and love. The cookies stalls had a special task. Every young man who wanted to conquer the heart of his favorite girl bought a large flat cookie, called "hylickmaker", freely translated as marriage-maker. It must have looked very tasty; covered with pink sugar and with promising words in white sugar on it like: "Out of Love" or "From the Heart". And around this text a circle of candy. This fair-cookie was in fact an unwritten love letter. On the second Sunday after the fair the lover came to collect his part of the cookie. If the girl and her family had left him a piece of the delicacy, his advances were approved.

Beside the cookies and candy you could always find the waffle-lady at every fair, where you could buy her fresh made waffles, served with plenty of butter and snowy with white sugar. During the day whole pigs were roasted over open fire, so the day always ended with drinking and feasting.

Depending on local traditions, the fair lasted from a few days to a full week, including the horse- and cheese markets. But the fair always ended as it had started: ringing the bells of the church or City Hall for half an hour.


The Children’s Bishop (de kinderbisschop)
A nice tradition in the 16th century was the election and inauguration of the Children’s Bishop. On Sint Nicolaas Day (December 6th), the best pupil of the school was elected to perform as Children’s Bishop on the feast of the Innocent Children. Just before Vespers on December 27th, the church was filled with children; the dog beater, who was responsible for keeping order in the church, had a hard time. After the Magnificat they all stood on their seats to see the elected boy enter the church and climb his throne. The priest knelt before him and offered him his mitre, staff and robe. After Vespers they all went home, and the little bishop had to stay inside for the rest of the evening.

Next morning the children gathered before the house of their bishop. Some of his friends were dressed as priests, and some as musicians. While riding on a donkey or a foal the little bishop lead his procession to City Hall, where he was welcomed by the Mayors and the Sheriff. In his speech the Sheriff called it an honor to welcome the Children’s Bishop, but he also took the opportunity to lecture the children about behavior and punishment. After this official part, all the children received an amount of candy and the procession continued on their tour through all the streets of the town. By the time the bells for Vespers were rung, they all headed for church. The Children’s Bishop stepped forward, put his mitre, staff and robe on the table and sat down between his friends. After Vespers, they all went home again.

It is a pity that this tradition did not survive the Reformation. However, another tradition evolved from it on December 27th. In many families the youngest children were allowed to function as father and mother on the feast of the Innocent Children. They were dressed as adults and every family member had to obey their “father” and “mother”. Although some narrow-minded priests execrated the parents, who continued these dubious actions, this tradition survived until the beginning of the 20th century.
Martinmas (Sint-Maarten)
On November 11th, 379 the bishop of Tours (France) died. This bishop, called Martinus, was born in 316 as the son of a Roman magistrate in Pannonia. As a Roman soldier he ran into a beggar near the town Amiens in Gallia. This poor man was almost frozen, so Martinus cut his coat in half and shared it with him. That night Martinus saw Jesus Christ in his dreams, wearing his coat.
He was converted to the Christian religion and in 361 he even founded the first monastery in France; in 371 he was elected bishop of Tours by the people.
Shortly after his death he was canonized. He became the patron saint of the poor and of the children. Saint Martin enjoyed great popularity in Holland. An oath taken on his name was as sacred as “by God’s Faith” or “by my mother’s soul”.

Saint Martin’s Eve was the great autumn festival. The principle dish on his festival was “Saint Martin’s goose”, which was found on almost every table. In the evening of Saint Martin’s fires were burned.

It became a tradition to give something to the poor on November 11th, ,Saint Martin’s dying day. The poor started begging at the farms, where the annual slaughtering had just begun and they could always count on some left-overs.
From this the children’s feast Sint-Maarten on November 11th evolved, going from door to door with lanterns and singing songs to collect candy.

Even today we have to make sure we bought enough candy or fruit. Early in the evening the little ones ring our doorbell constantly, showing their self-made lanterns and singing the same kind of songs their ancestors did.
Kaats (kaatsen)
What is considered to be the typical Frisian ball game “kaatsen” (literally translated as bouncing the ball), appears to be the old French game “Jeu de Paume”, or game of the Palm. The history of this game is very interesting, because the tennis game evolved from it. The tools needed were a small ball filled with hair, and the palm of the hand. The game was very popular in France and was first mentioned in the 11th century. In the first period of its existence it was played with the bare hand, but when it became popular among the nobility, they started to use tools to protect their hands. First the glove was introduced, later the bat was used. Around 1500 a racket was developed with stringing made of sheep’s bowel and with a long handle. During the game the (French) players shouted “Tenez”, freely translated as “here he comes”. It is said that the word tennis originates from this yell.

In the Netherlands the game was (and in Friesland it still is) played in the old way, with a leather glove. It was very popular in the 17th century and since the common man discovered the game too, it was played within the city next to the tavern and the church. The noise that the heated players made, disturbed the Mass, and the game was banished, to be played outside the city walls. Since those days “kaatsen” is played on a field.

The field was 60 by 32 meters and two teams of three players each played the game. There was one server and two field players. The server had to play the ball within a section of the field and the field players had to return the ball as far as possible. The opponents had to outdo them.
Traditional costumes (klederdracht)
It is very hard to determine the origin and age of traditional clothing. It was mostly found in isolated, secluded communities. This isolation could be a result of the geographical location of a village or a differing religions within the same area. Deprived of new influences from the outside world, the development of all kinds of things became fixed in old times, including the clothing that was worn. Even today, the reason that the older generation in some villages still wear traditional costumes is because these communities did not allow strangers to live within their borders, even as recently as 60 years ago.

The traditional costume, which is world famous, is that of the village of Volendam. But Dutch costumes from each of those villages look differently from the costumes of the others.
However, these styles of dress all had a lot in common. They all had a Sunday-dress and a work-dress; even the bonnet had different versions. The colors of the dress, the wrap and the bonnet told a lot about the social status of the person involved. In some village you could tell whether the woman was marriageable, by looking at the way her bonnet was folded.
All Sunday-dresses had some kind of ornaments, like brooches, necklaces and the head- or ear iron. These “irons” were made of gold or silver and were attached to the bonnet. Some are true pieces of art and today they are worth a small fortune. They evolved from a more practical tool; an iron headband, which had to keep the bonnet in place in case of heavy storms.

The majority of the villages where you could find traditional clothing were fishing communities and many of their men died at sea. Depending on the degree of family relationship to the deceased (and they were all related to each other), a woman might be in deep mourning, four-years mourning, or light mourning.
Because they were in mourning almost all of their lives, the women usually wore dark costumes.

Unfortunately the traditional costumes are disappearing. In Scheveningen, where my wife was born and raised, only a few older women, who know how to starch, fold and iron the bonnet, remain. Every year, when the first herring is brought in, my wife travels to Scheveningen to participate in their annual parade in the harbor. She and her sisters borrow the traditional costumes from the women in the old people’s home. These elderly women help them into the different dresses, fold the wrap in a special way and attach it with silver pins and brooches. The head-irons, however, are too valuable to wear, so they wear the work-bonnets instead. In a few years these friendly fisherman’s wives will no longer be around to help this tradition stay alive.
Christmas (kerstmis)
For a lot of people Christmas was and is the most important feast of the year. But the Christmas celebration as we know it is only a few hundred years old.

Because Christmas used to be a purely religious event, celebrated within the church, a “Father Christmas” figure was unknown in Holland in the 17th century. A similar figure, which was very popular in Holland and the rest of Europe, was Saint Nicolaas (Sinterklaas), patron saint of sailors, travelers and children. His feast was celebrated on the 6th of December. The first settlers brought this good old saint along to the New World. With those first immigrants he started a new life and his name, “Sinterklaas”, became “Santa Claus”.

Although people did decorate trees since ancient times, the custom to put a decorated tree inside the house at Christmas originated from Germany. The British Royal Family, who had some German ancestors, played a major role in the popularity of the Christmas tree. In 1841, Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria, adopted this German custom. They erected a tree decorated with candy, fruit and gingerbread. This created a new tradition, now practiced by many Christians around the world. When German immigrants introduced the Christmas tree in America in 1851, the churches were not too happy about this “terrible reversion into paganism”.

In many different cultures around the world, the tree was always worshipped and decorated with apples and fruit, while bonfires were lit to celebrate the New Year and the new light. Some say that the balls in the Christmas tree symbolize those apples, and that the candles replace the bonfire. The choice of the spruce as the ultimate Christmas tree is because it’s always green, and symbolizes eternal live.
Children’s clothes (kinderkleding)
For the first two months of life a baby was wrapped in swaddling clothes from neck to feet, so it could not move. The classic reason was to allow the correct growth of the limbs (even Aristoteles and Plato wrote about it), but it was also the best way to keep the baby calm. It was the ultimate imitation of the womb.

In the first four to five years of their lives, the clothes of the girls and boys were almost the same, they all wore dresses. This habit still existed at the end of the 19th century. As the child was trying to sit up it wore a long dress and a hat. By the time the first attempts were made to stand and walk the child would always wear a “fall-hat”. This was a hat with a soft thick band around the head, like a soft helmet. The dress, which at first was covering the feet, was now shortened. Sometimes an apron covered the dress. If the child was able to walk, the fall-hat was replaced by a normal linen cap or hat.

In cold weather, the bare arms were covered with loose sleeves, made of yellow chamois leather. It was attached just above the elbow and hooked behind the thumb. In winter these sleeves were even worn within the house. Another cloth to keep these children warm was the “zielewarmer” (soulwarmer). A shawl, which was wrapped around the shoulders, crossed around the chest and attached at the back. Although the boys and girls both wore dresses, their contemporaries could see the difference instantly by the model of the collar or other accessories.

Around the age of four or five, the boys got their “manly” outfit; wide trousers, a shirt and sometimes a waistcoat. The trousers had deep pockets, and a flap in front, closed by buttons. This was a crucial moment in the transitional phase from child to man. If the boy misbehaved, there was always the threat that he had to wear the dress again.
The clothes of the girls did not change much as they grew up. Only in the last part of the 18th century they were allowed to wear trousers underneath their dresses. Only then they could run, jump and play.

In general, the children were dressed like miniature grown people, in normal life and during festivities. If we look at the paintings of the riche people, we see the little daughters wearing long dresses, ruffs, lace cuffs, caps and often jewelry. The boys are dressed in the style of their fathers, even to the large felt hat with plumes. Let’s not forget that a lot of those children were just dressed up for those official portraits. Hopefully they were normally allowed to wear something more casual in order to run and play.

Klootschieten is an old game, which was already played in the Middle Ages and is still played in some parts of the Netherlands, mainly in Twente. A “kloot” was a wooden ball filled with pieces of lead and not exactly round. “Schieten” is an old Dutch verb meaning “to throw”.
Two teams had to throw this heavy ball along an agreed route to a specific point. The team who could accomplish it in fewer throws than their opponents was the winner. It’s comparable to golf, but played with the hands. As the ball was thrown, the other team members were allowed to smooth the path with branches. The inhabitants of Elburg played this game in another way: the rule was to go round the city walls with the fewest number of throws possible.

Klootschieten was done within the cities for a long time, but the local authorities were not too happy with this kind of games within their walls. The heavy balls were dangerous for children and apart from the inconvenience, the citizens complained about damaged possessions, like windows and shutters.

The game was very popular. It was even played in winter on the frozen lakes and canals. In the region Rijnland it was an annual custom that everyone who could throw the ball would participate in the klootschieten on Kopper Monday (the first Monday after Epiphany). Those who did not have a “kloot” just selected a beautiful round stone or played it with a simple wooden ball.

In the Golden Age the game lost its popularity, it was “not done” and it got a negative image. We still have a negative expression in Dutch for “common people”: klootjes volk.

Cruel games
Not all folklore was innocent and harmless. To draw you a complete picture, I have to tell you some of those cruel forms of pastime.
Animals were often the victims of those barbaric, but tolerated, games, like goose-pulling, bird-cutting or cat-beating.

In the first sport (?!) a goose, which was greased with soap or fat, was attached to a rope, which was tightened high across a road between two trees. A horse-drawn wagon with some men on it would run full speed over the road and they had to grab the head of the poor floundering bird and ……rip it off !
This unaesthetic game was often done on the water too; the man was standing on the back of the boat with his feet on the edges and was pulled by a few men on the shore with a rope. If he fell into the water before reaching the bird, the crowd loved that even more.

Bird-cutting was a cruel variant of the innocent blindman’s buff. He who could decapitate a duck with one blow, while being blindfolded, could call himself the champion.

The cat-beating competition was very popular and was often organized by the innkeeper and the reward was a silver object or a bottle of liquor.
The competitors had to throw a club to a barrel, which was swinging by ropes between two poles. In the barrel was a terrified screaming cat. The more the barrel was swinging, the more elated the crowd became. But the purpose was, to destroy the barrel, so it would fall apart. If the cat came out alive, the spectator who could catch the poor animal received a bottle of liquor as a reward. The upper class thought cats were vulgar, so they used a peacock instead !!

Even in the 19th century, these kinds of pastimes were common. In 1870 these “games” were no longer allowed, but in 1886 Amsterdam had its eel-riot. Eel-pulling, a variation to the goose-pulling with a boat, was very popular. But as soon as the police stopped this illegal practice on the Lindengracht, a riot broke out and even the army was needed to restore peace in that part of Amsterdam, called the Jordaan.
Palm Sunday (Palmpasen)
Palmpasen, the Sunday before Easter, used to be the Christian celebration of the festive entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem, where a cheerful crowd, waving with palm leaves, welcomed Him.
For centuries people formed processions; a wooden donkey or horse symbolized the mount of Jesus Christ, and because palm trees were not found in Holland, people waved with buxus (boxwood) branches, while singing psalms. The "palms" were blessed in church and were a protection against misfortune, crop failure and cattle disease. The palms were often attached to the stables like flagpoles.

After the Reformation, these kinds of processions were no longer allowed, because those were considered "popish spectacles". In 1635 singing and walking with a Palm or "any other vegetables" was not allowed. In 1769, however, it had become a real children's feast; the
religious aspects had all disappeared. On Palm Sunday the children walked in procession with crosses, decorated with oranges, painted eggs, figs, flags and flowers. On top of it was a rooster, made of bread. Even today, in some places, there are children's contests, about which child had made the finest palm tree.

The first day of the forty days Lent before Easter is called Ash Wednesday. The sexton burned the blessed palm trees of the year before; the ashes were blessed and sprinkled with holy water. During Mass the priest would sprinkle the blessed ashes crosswise above the heads of the
men and he would make a cross with it on the foreheads of the women.

A traditional meal in Holland on Ash Wednesday was white beans and herrings.
Traditions about death
Dear friends,
Some traditions about death are peculiar, but the following tradition tells us something about the tights of the old Dutch farmers community.

Traditions about death (tradities bij dood)
If someone in the country died, the community took over all duties. Every farmer had made arrangements with one or two of his neighbors, to help each other in case of emergency or death. This "nood-buur" (emergency-neighbor) was the first to be notified. The nood-buur alerted the rest of the community to come to the house of mourning to say the rosary together. They gathered for prayer every evening until the deceased was buried.

From this moment on, the family members were not allowed to do anything until the funeral had taken place. The nood-buur made all necessary arrangements. The neighbors washed and dressed the deceased. After that, he or she was laid on a bed of straw. Straw was the ultimate protection against ghosts and bad spirits. The normal bed was for the living.
The community took care of the livestock. Several of the other farmers worked on his land, sowing or harvesting, and the women managed thehousehold.

One of the neighbors was appointed to ride the wagon with the coffin to the cemetery. On the morning of the funeral he went into the stables, sprinkled the horses with some water, and whispered in their ears thatthey had to bring a corpse to the cemetery today.
The wagon was covered with a layer of straw before the coffin was loaded. On every crossing the wagon was stopped for a prayer, because this was the place where devils and wizards did their evil things and where ghosts appeared. Sometimes parts of the road to the cemetery were
covered with straw too.

Some old farmhouses in North-Holland and Friesland still have a death-door. This door was only used by the bridal couple to enter their new home and to carry out the body of the deceased. Some farms even had a death-path that led to that door and was never used. All this was done to confuse the soul of the deceased, so it could not find its way back.

Another habit involved both marriage and death. In some regions, the bride and groom used to wear a special dress during their wedding night, called the "hennekleed". They kept this dress all their lives, but wore it only one other time; this "hennekleed" was also their shroud. Their
Christian names were embroided on the dress. Not their surnames, because if those were buried, the family name would become extinct.


Traditional Death Announcements (lijkstrootjes)
In the southern part of the Netherlands, a peculiar habit was used to tell the world that someone had died. This was announced by putting two bundles of straw in front of the house. These bundles, about 17 inches long, were tied with leather belts and put on top of each other. On the top bundle, three stones were placed and some were laid on both sides against the bottom bundle. In later years, small painted planks replaced these. These stones or planks were just a precaution, to prevent the bundles from blowing away.

The bundles were property of the Orphanage and the family of the deceased could rent them. On the planks were the initials: R.W.H for Rooms Weeshuis (Roman Catholic Orphanage) or G.W.H. for Gereformeerd Weeshuis (Reformed Orphanage). The bundles stayed in front of the house as long as the deceased wasn't buried. The personnel of the Orphanage removed the bundles in the evening and early in the morning they placed them back. This was just a precaution, so that people did not trip over the bundles in the dark.

These bundles gave the passer-by a lot of information about the deceased. If the bundles were tied with five belts, the deceased was an adult, children had only three. Around the belts were three ribbons. The men had a white ribbon in the middle and black on both sides and women
had a black ribbon in the middle. The three planks on top were always the same, but the planks against the bottom bundle had a meaning too. Three planks were for the unmarried and five for those who were married.

This way, the passer-by knew if the deceased was single or married, male or female, child or adult, and what church he or she belonged to. This habit disappeared in the cities around 1860, but in the country, these bundles of straw were still used until late in the 20th century.

Tobacco (tabak)
The Spaniards introduced tobacco (nicotiana tabacum) to Europe, and in the early years it was only found in herb gardens and pharmacies. In the first years of the 17th century, however, the common man discovered the pleasures of "tobacco drinking" or "tobacco sucking", as smoking the pipe was called. In no time it was popular among young and old, rich and poor, male and female. Yes, the ladies too. Cigars and cigarettes were unknown; those would come up centuries later, so everyone used the pipe.

At first the tobacco was only available as complete leaves, so the user had to shred it himself (herself). The commercial market, which had been opened by this product, was extremely lucrative. Special shops were opened, where people could buy the tobacco and their tools to shred the leaves, tobacco boxes made of ivory, silver or gold, matchboxes and of
course their pipes.

The first pipes were imported from England. When Queen Elisabeth I died in 1603, many English craftsmen fled the country from her successor James I. The Dutch pipe makers, who learned the trade from these English fugitives, set up a successful industry, which lasted centuries. The advantage for the pipe makers was, that the clay pipe could only be used one or two times. People bought pipes by the dozen. Although one could buy pipes of silver and ivory, the best pipes were made of a special clay. Other materials became so hot, that the smokers
burned their fingers or even their lips.

As the popularity of the tobacco grew, it was not only imported, but in several parts of the country, people started to cultivate tobacco plantations. The common Dutch tobacco was mixed with the richer tobacco from Virginia. And of course the government invented a new tax, to participate in the profits.

Another way to enjoy the tobacco was by snuffing it. The French, who started this habit, used to say: "Le tabac en poudre est l'herbe, qui purgit le cerveau" (Snuff tobacco is the herb, which purifies the brain). At first the physicians prescribed it to their patients, but eventually the healthy ones started to appreciate this medicine too. In our own era, 300 years later, our physicians have made a new discovery. Now, they tell us that Tobacco is not such a good medicine after all.
Saint Nicolas (Sinterklaas)
The festival of Sint Nicolaas is the most important Dutch children's feast of the year. In the 4th century, Nicolaas was the bishop of Myra (now south east Turkey). In the 6th century, he was worshipped as a Saint in the Byzantine Empire and in the 12th century in Europe. Due to the miracles he is said to have performed, he became the patron saint of various professions and groups, like sailors, merchants, travelers, unmarried women and children. All along the northern coasts from France to Norway, Sint Nicolaas churches were founded, where sailors prayed for a safe journey. In Holland these "Klaas-churches" were mainly found along the
coastline and near the great rivers.

The Sint Nicolaas feast was celebrated at the convent-schools in the early Middle Ages. During his feast on 6 December the children did a play, where the Saint appeared as by a miracle and brought the children presents. In the late Middle Ages, the Sint Nicolaas feast was also celebrated outside the churches and convents with processions, meals for the poor, and presents or candy for the children. The Roman Catholic Church was not pleased with these worldly expressions of the observance.

After the Reformation, the Reformed Church tried to banish it as a Popish feast, but all efforts were in vain. Even the local authorities enacted several regulations to prevent the festivities. But Sinterklaas was too popular. During the period from 1750-1850 the authorities tried to "civilize" the Sinterklaas feast. They knew they could not stamp it out, so the authorities tried to isolate the celebration to within the family circle. Finally the intentions of the local authorities succeeded. The Sint Nicolaas feast was then used to encourage the children to work harder at school and obey their parents and teachers in exchange for presents and candy. It had become a feast for the educators and moralists.

On the evening of December 5th the children receive their presents. That evening is called "pakjes-avond" (package night). In some families Sint Nicolaas himself is present to give the gifts away. Sinterklaas is supposed to live in Spain and during the last century he is accompanied by an assistant, called Zwarte Piet (Black Pete). He is supposed to descend down the chimney to put the gifts in the shoes of the children. With a burned cork the face of this assistant was painted black and he used to have the role of the bogeyman. Fortunately, his make-up can be bought in a shop and his role now is more of a clown and the friend of
the children.
Lazybones (Luilak)
On the Saturday before Whit Sunday (Pentecost), the children in the Amsterdam area used to get up very early and roam the streets in groups making as much noise as possible, in order to waken everybody. In the 16th and 17th centuries “luilak” started on the Friday before Whit Sunday and lasted all day Saturday. Later on it was limited only to Saturday mornings. Even today we disconnect our doorbells before we go to bed on Friday evening before Whit Saturday. I too participated in this event as a little boy. However, in some parts of the Netherlands this tradition is completely unknown.

The habits regarding “luilak” differed from region to region. In the area around Zaandam (north of Amsterdam), the boys gathered stinging nettles and loaded it on a “korrie”, a self made cart. The boy who came last was the luilak and had to ride on the cart and hold the nettles together. The cart was pulled through the village and the nettles were fixed to the doorknobs of every house. Then they started banging on kettles and pans in order to wake the whole village.
The dignitaries did not get nettles, their doorknobs were decorated with a dead rat or frog; the boys hoped to receive a reward for removing it.

About the origin and symbolism of this tradition, different theories and opinions are suggested. Most likely it was the (noisy) announcement that the Whitsun celebrations were about to begin.

A miller’s tradition in Zaandam, that has disappeared along with the sawmills, was putting the wings of the sawmill in the “luilak”-position. In the early hours of Whit Saturday the miller set one wing in front of the body of the mill, with a green branch attached to the top wing. I never found out why he fastened several empty sawdust-baskets to the lower wing.
The music-tavern (musico)
In the 17th and 18th century, specific establishments in the cities were very popular among the citizens and the visitors from abroad: the music-tavern or musico.

In a normal tavern the guests were entertained by a hired musician or a traveling group.
In the music-tavern, however, the customers themselves performed the music. The walls were covered with many kinds of instruments you could think of, like the lute, violins, flutes, cornets, horns, and many others. On posters outside the musico the passer-by was invited to come in and play any instrument. At the bottom of the same poster was the "réglement d'ordre", which stated, that if the visitor was able to play the violin, bass, harpsichord or any other instrument and did not feel like it, he had to offer a bottle of wine to the musicians. Besides making music and listening to it, the guests could dance, enjoy drinks and cookies, play cards and smoke their pipes. Some music-taverns had a real stage, where plays could be performed, alternated with songs and duets.

In the early years of the 18th century these music-taverns slowly changed. The spontaneous performances were imperceptibly replaced by street musicians. The "old" customers stayed away and the honest, cheerful musico, where you could bring your wife and guests, slowly disappeared. The different kind of music attracted a different kind of audience; at the end of the 18th century, "musico" was synonymous for brothel or whorehouse.

Dear friends,
From the book "Dutch New York" by Esther Singleton (p.302-303) I know, that in New Amsterdam "Three Kings' Night" was celebrated exactly the same as it was in the Republic.
Cor Snabel

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Epiphany (Driekoningen)
On January 6th, the three wise men (later called kings) arrived at the stable in Jerusalem, and on this date the twelve days of the Christmas celebration ends. In England it is still called Twelfth Night. In Holland it was considered to bring bad luck if the Christmas decorations were not removed directly after Epiphany.

Epiphany was the feast of the poor for centuries. The exuberant celebration of Christmas, with singing and a banquet in the church, was halted by the Reformation. Deprived of free food and liquor, the poor began the custom of wandering the streets, trying to collect gifts of food, while going from door to door singing. Begging and singing was allowed from Christmas till the twelfth day: January 6th. In later years it grew into a children's feast. They went from door to door carrying a big star, collecting candy.

Another epiphany tradition was the King's Play. An epiphany bread or cake was baked with a bean in it. The one who found the bean was king for one day and everyone had to obey him or her. The king appointed a complete royal household. In some regions, the election of the cast of players was done by putting small wooden statues into a bag. Everyone had to take one. Such a royal household had of course a king and queen, a court jester, musician, soldier, councilor, servant and many more. The play could be performed in the tavern or at home. The game did not have many rules, but everyone had to play his part and obey the king.

Part of this King's Play was a game called "jumping the candles".
A few burning candles were put on the floor and the children had to jump over them. The meaning of this game goes back to ancient times. The jump over the fire is symbolic of the yearly death/rebirth cycle. By jumping over the bonfire, the old issues from the past are laid to rest. The new yearly cycle begins at the same time, with new hopes, dreams and intentions.

© Cor Snabel, 2002