Stitching Holiday Traditions Vanessa Martina

0.75x 1x 1.25x 1.5x 2x 0:0000:26:53 Stitching Holiday Traditions Vanessa Martina


Episode Summary

Stitching Holiday Traditions is a special series of the Stitch Please podcast. These are first-person narratives from women in the Black Women Stitch community. They talk about how the December holidays bring about their creative spirit. Learn how their sewing and making enhances their celebrations. Pattern designer, Vanessa Martina, walks us backward, from New Year’s Eve through Sinterklaas, describing the four main holiday celebrations in the Netherlands. Vanessa’s holiday dispatch offers the sites, sounds, tastes, and smells of celebration, but the festivities are not without controversy or protest. Vanessa reveals both the special joys of the season and how she navigates the racist legacy of Dutch colonial rule in traditional holiday celebrations. From fireworks, indoor grilling, costumed performances, Christmas markets, and skating on ice, this episode pops with personality.

Episode Notes

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Lisa Woolfork 0:00

The Stitch Please podcast will be taking a winter hiatus until January, but in the meantime, we will not leave you hanging. We've got some beautiful new episodes coming up just in time for the holidays. The new series, Stitching Holiday Traditions, are first person narratives for members of the Black Women Stitch community. These are first person special dispatch stories from women in the Black Women Stitch sewing community who are graciously sharing the stories of their family traditions with us. Each of them has a beautiful and unique story that we think you'll appreciate learning about as they talk about the ways that their sewing, crafty and creative lives intersect with the ways that they celebrate the holidays. Prepare yourself to have a really great time as we wrap up 2021.

Vanessa 0:54

Hi, my name is Vanessa Martina, I'm the pattern designer at Kosedo Studio. Lisa invited me to share something about my holiday experience and Christmas traditions. Thank you so much, Lisa, for inviting me. So I live in the Netherlands. I live in the second largest city in the Netherlands, and that is Rotterdam. I live here with my husband and two boys, a six year old and a two year old. My parents are originally from Suriname. My father's from Suriname and my mother is from Curaçao. And my husband is actually from Liberia. So we have a really fun Caribbean mixed with West African household. I was born and raised in the Netherlands myself. The Netherlands has around 500,000 Black people with a population of around 17 million Dutch people. Most of us live around the bigger city, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague. Most of us have our own traditional celebrations, what we do in the months around the holiday. But yeah, I will tell you a little bit about general things and not specific to Caribbean culture or Suriname culture. But I will tell you something a little bit more about general feeling of Christmas and the holidays. So this year, there will be four major events or traditions celebrations happening here. I will work my way backwards from New Year's Eve. Traditionally, with a New Year's Eve you eat oliebollen. It's type of dumpling and you sprinkle powdered sugar on top of it and you drink a glass of champagne with it. Traditionally, most people buy a lottery ticket and watch some of the New Year's shows on television. However, New Year's Eve is a bit of a controversial topic because of the fireworks in the Netherlands fireworks is a major topic of discussion every year. Fireworks are forbidden the whole year around in the Netherlands except for New Year's Eve. And people go wild for fireworks. It's actually quite problematic because everyone can fire fireworks everywhere they want. And it's not soft fireworks. It's really loud, hard, dangerous fireworks taking into account that people often drink during New Year's Eve. So it's all in all really problematic. People describe it as a war zone, and I would also describe it as a war zone. The police the nurses, doctors, emergency workers, firemen everybody calls it the war zone. Last year there were 1200 people wounded and ended up in the hospital. Half of those were people that had severe burn marks, and 300 people had injuries to their eyes. Cars are being burned. There is bonfires everywhere. And not to mention the air pollution, light pollution and sound pollution. To have that in one evening. It's just really crazy and undescribable. You have to look at a video on YouTube, and it's called "How to Survive Dutch Fireworks" and that's best description of how bad it is. I think two years ago 68 million euros was spent on fireworks alone. The Netherlands has 17 million people, so that's a lot of fireworks. Last year the government banned fireworks because they were already overworked with COVID patients. So they had to take a stop to it also that doctors were complaining that they cannot have also burn victims and other casualties on top of the COVID patients. So they banned it. This they're also banned, and people are really upset about it and mad about it and protesting and even there were some riots this weekend about the fireworks being banned. People see it as their right to fire fireworks. It's really crazy. The next big holiday or celebration is Christmas, the Christian Christmas. And we have three days of Christmas. You've Christmas Eve, then you have the first day of Christmas, which is December 25. Then you have the second day of Christmas. That's December 26. I don't know why we have but it is really convenient because you can divide your time between your family and your in-laws. As a child, the best Christmases used to be at my grandmother's house. My grandmother used to demand entertainment from all her grandchildren. We used to have to prepare a performance was mandatory, talent not [laugh]. I used to do like Whitney Houston or Mel and Kim with my sister. And my aunties also made costumes like little Whitney Houston the costumes or Michael Jackson costumes for my cousins. It was really fun to do. And then afterward, we used to eat and then open up presents. And ever since my grandmother passed away, we don't do that anymore. But it used to be super fun. So now basically, we mostly eat and open presents. That's basically the Christmas. There's one thing though that's really Dutch. And it's gourmetten. Gourmetten is a grill like an electric drill that you put in the middle of the table, the dining table. Everyone sits around it and yeah, grills their own meats. It's like a two story type of grill thing. And the bottom there's these small little pans and on the top there's usually like a stone grill plate. And you put your meat on it and then just sit there and grill. It's kind of weird because you're grilling inside the house. So the whole house will stink basically like you're you're barbecuing in the house, which I don't like but I find the whole gourmetten really funny. I think it's meant to be so that the host is not cooking. So everybody's cooking their the food themselves. But yeah, it's super inconvenient, because of all the smell in the house. It's a super Dutch thing. Also, the little pans, what I was describing, those are all color coded so that you don't accidentally take someone else's food. So that's basically "going Dutch", right? You don't take each other's food. You don't share. [laugh] It's quite funny. Almost half of Dutch people do gourmettes at Christmas. And even in the supermarket, you can buy small little pieces of meat for the gourmetten, Dutch people just buy the gourmetten meats all prepared and just put it on the grill. With us, we of course by our own meat, wash it, clean it, then season it and then let it sit there and marinate and also we do a lot of side dishes. So you actually are cooking. So we have usually some rice and peas, some salads or potato salads, something like that with it. But if we're not gourmetten then we just divide up who makes what and everybody just brings food to whoever's house we're going to. So I love Christmas. We usually also have a Christmas tree in the house. I decorate. There's also loads of Christmas markets and ice skating places. Yeah, all the shops and everything. There's lights everywhere. So it's really a fun time. My kids love Christmas. They really look forward for Christmas. We do put Christmas presents under the tree, but we don't tell them that's from Santa. It's from us the parents so yeah, great fun!

Lisa Woolfork 9:40

You're listening to the Stitch Please podcast, and the special edition episodes about Stitching Holiday Traditions. We'll return to the story after this break. The Black Women Stitch 2020 wall calendar is bigger and Blacker than ever. Not only is the calendar about 15% larger than last year's calendar, it still remains jam packed with so much wonderful history about Black women's history, sewing history and activist history. There's also a wonderful new feature in this year's version, and that is the quarterly pattern release. At the beginning of every quarter, you will find original images from Black women artists, the patterns are available as a PDF download, allowing you to resize them to the needs of your project. Order your copy of the Black Women Stitch 2022 wall calendar at and we will help you get your stitch together. And now we'll return to Stitching Holiday Traditions. Thanks for listening.

Vanessa 10:51

So what a lot of people don't know is that the Netherlands is a monarch. We have a king and the king oldest daughter is turning 18 this December. There will be a lot of ceremonial and traditional events planned around it. Probably all the news channels and all the newspapers will report on it. People are going to sit down and look at the live event. She will have to have a speech in front of the Parliament. Why it's such a big event also, and why it's so controversial is because on her 18th birthday, she was supposed to get 1.5 million and on every other birthday for the rest of her life she will get 1.5 million. She now said herself that she will not take that money until she actually earned it. She didn't want to take money she didn't earn, which is really noble of her, but it's a really big subject of discussion because people are like, "It's costing us so much money" and we already pay a lot of taxes here in the Netherlands. So yeah, it's quite a subject of discussion every year. It's not really a holiday event, but it will be a really big event happening. So I did want to mention it. So yeah, the last celebration this December or every December is Sinterklaas. It's a typical Dutch celebration, although in Belgium and in I think Luxembourg, in some part of the Dutch Caribbean they celebrate also Sinterklaas. In the Netherlands Sinterklaas is basically celebrated around fifth of December and three weeks before he comes in the country. Now he's like Santa. He has helpers. Santa has elves. Santa Claus has basically white people in blackface and they called "Black Pete", who is Zwarte Piet. Sinterklaas, comes three weeks before his birthday to the Netherlands on a boat from Spain. And he comes to bring all the present to all the children. What Dutch people have you believe or try to convince you that Black Pete is black, because he goes through this chimney and he has soot on his face, so that's why he's black. But when I was young, Black Pete had two golden earrings, a golden ring in his nose. He had an Afro. He had red lips, and most of the time a Caribbean accent. So it has nothing to do with through to the chimney. Sinterklaas is probably the biggest celebration here in the Netherlands. There's books of Sinterklaas. There's songs that are song. There's movies of Santa Claus, toys, all the shops are with Santa Claus. Yeah, it's a huge thing. And because he comes three weeks before his birthday, on the fifth of December, it's like not even three weeks is four weeks of, of leading up to that birthday. There's a Sinterklaas Show now, which is basically the news geared towards children with Santa Claus news, and usually the story goes that the Pete lost all the presents and "Oh my God, there's news. Where are the presents?" and news reports are "Where could the presents be?..." something like that. So it's a huge thing. The annoying thing is that it's celebrated also in the school. That's horrible. When I was younger. I didn't want to go to school basically the whole period. I was the subject of jokes, teasing. No, it was bullying, not teasing, bullying, making jokes about skin color, hair. I looked like Black Pete... also Black Pete was not a nice character. He was a character that would beat you up and put you in a sack and bring you to Spain. There's also the songs- very controversial and nasty songs. For example, one of the songs goes like "even though he's black as soot, he means good." Having to sing those things, it was really traumatic and really stressful for me just to go to school, all those four weeks. I must say, now a days Zwarte Piet and SinterKlaas went through a lot of changes. So you would not see the golden earrings, the Afro hair, you don't see the red lips, and absolutely no accent. He also is not that bad that he puts you in a sack and that he really scares children. But still, it's problematic. Now they put soot on people's faces, so you still see that it still looks like blackface basically. There's a lot of protests around this time. Black people protesting against it, also white people protesting against it, because people are starting to figure out that it's it's not normal. This year, also, there was a little bit of a scandal because the solution these pro Pete, they say pro Black Pete, they came up with gray Petes. So he's not black is dark gray. So it's ridiculous that how people just don't want to get rid of Black Pete. It's such a big issue. Dutch people feel like we're touching their culture, trying to change their culture... 'We are immigrants, so we shouldn't decide about culture.' So it's, it's a lot. So in the bigger cities, it is changing. You don't see Pete with soot. He's also not called "Black Pete" anymore. They call him "Pete." So it is changing. But in smaller towns you really see still like Black Pete, and of course, there's the movies. And that sort of thing. I will come back and talk about the movies. I have a lot to say about that. For my children, I want to protect them from all the teasing and bullying around that time. So we actually don't celebrate Sinterklaas. We made a choice when my oldest son was younger that we just wouldn't participate in it. But we do have to prepare him for that this whole season. So we do have conversations before this season starts about race, color, Black Pete, yeah, just in a kid appropriate way. He's six, so you cannot say everything. But we do want to prepare him for the time. We also said he will not meet Sinterklaas, so when Sinterklaas comes to school, he will stay home. We also informed the teachers that he will stay home. That is not part of our way of life to meet Sinterklaas. And we also don't lie to our children. So we don't say Sinterklaas, goes with a horse over the roofs to bring presents through a chimney. Usually children put their shoe at the chimney. So that Sinterklaas can go through the chimney or Pete can go through this chimney to put present in their shoe. Yeah, we don't do all of that. If we give my son a present, he knows that it's from me. He knows it's not real basically. We also tried to make a really safe environment in the home, so we hardly mentioned actually Sinterklaas in the home because he already gets an overload of information at school. We make sure there's no media with Sinterklaas or books or anything else. Sometimes they have these catalogs with all the toys catalogs that they send to like a snail mail, that is send to all the houses for children. We don't participate in any of this, and I must say it makes our household a lot calmer and relaxed during this time because it used to be, for me at least, it used to be really stressful. A lot of companies stopped participating in images of Black Pete, and that's a good thing. So most big companies just don't participate. Smaller companies also not. You would see it more in smaller towns and smaller, smaller villages that it's still being celebrated with Black Pete. I posted something about Sinterklaas in my stories on Instagram. And there was someone that reacted with, "Oh, this would never happen in America." And that got me thinking about something, because the companies that still now participate in it are American companies. The Dutch channels, TV channels stopped showing Black Pete, but you can find all of them on the streaming sites. In 2016 Nickelodeon stop. Nickelodeon used to have the worst kind of Black Pete on their channel. I mean, worst of worse. Yhey had the whole reality TV show about Black Pete and Sinterklaas and all these things with full on blackface. Then 2016 They stopped and Netflix took over and they had all the movies with Black Pete. 2018 Netflix stopped, only 2018. That's not a long time ago. Now Amazon Prime took over and there's blackface on their streaming service. And now Apple TV also has it, so every time another company stops, a Dutch company stops, then they take over. And I feel like they censor it for the rest of the world. So only I here can go into my Apple TV and see it but someone on the other side of the world won't be able to see it. It's censored out. Which is horrifying to me. It's really upsetting. But yeah, again, it is what it is. It makes money. I also see a pattern what these companies do. So usually they show it a couple of years. And then suddenly they say like, "Oh, we don't want to be involved in the conversation anymore." They will never say it's wrong, blackface is wrong, because they don't want to offend any Dutch people that that are pro Black Pete. But they will say that and then suddenly they will change their whole marketing to be now inclusive. It's a really strange thing. I don't know what to say about it is really strange. Dutch companies stopping and now these huge American companies stepping in those places that that people leave behind. One thing I do like about Sinterklaas, and that doesn't involve Sinterklaas or Black Pete, and that is surprise, and suprise is what they do with teenagers. It's like Secret Santa. So in the classroom, you pick someone's name, and you have to make/craft something for that person. And you have to put the present inside. So for example, I made once a really big television for someone and then the present was hidden inside the television. It was just a cardboard thing that I made. One time, a classmate got me a huge box with a big ribbon on top. And it was a surprise for me. When I opened it, there was only hay, inside. Now I already freaked out, because I don't like bugs and insects and that sort of thing. And I knew already who gave me this surprise, because there was only one person in my class that lives on the farm. So I was actually horrified. He basically made me put my hands in this big box of hay and tried to search for my present. I asked for like drawing pencils and these things and he wrapped them all individually and hidden it in that box with all the hay It was horrible. But anyway, I just wanted to share that also with you. That I think would be way more fun because that involves me crafting and making things and doesn't involve any Sinterklaas or Zwarte Piet. So yeah. So that was a little bit about my experience with all the holidays and how we celebrate it. I didn't quite touch upon how I connected to sewing and crafting but basically I tried to make all the Christmas outfits and New Year's outfits for me and my children and my husband. Yeah, and I sew a little bit for things around, cushions and that sort of thing. Sometimes I'm also make presents but other than that I don't do much sewing. That's already love anyway, so, thank you so much for listening. I'll speak to you next time. Bye!

Lisa Woolfork 25:13

You been listening to Stitching Holiday Traditions, a special podcast episode of the Stitch Please podcast. Get ready for some really great fun in 2022 from Black Women Stitch as we prepare to launch our website. This has been a long time coming. I'm very excited about it. You can support the Black Women Stitch project and the Stitch Please podcast in lots of ways. For $3.99 you can rate and review the podcast on iTunes and anywhere else you listen to podcasts. If you'd like to make a donation to Black Women Stitch, you can do that through our ActBlue site. Or you can become a patron on our Patreon. We also have our Big Cartel site that has the Black Women Stitch 2022 wall calendar, as well as stickers and some adorable patches. Thank you so much for your support. We are grateful to be in community with you and come back next time and we'll help you get your stitch together.

Hosted by Lisa Woolfork

Lisa is a fourth-generation sewing enthusiast who learned to sew while earning a PhD in African American literature and culture. She has been sewing for more than twenty years while also teaching, researching, and publishing in Black American literature and culture.

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