Thousands expected at Sinterklaas celebration in Rhinebeck
About 12,000 people are expected to descend on the village to welcome back Sinterklaas on Saturday.
Sinterklaas is a Dutch tradition which celebrates St. Nicholas, a Christian bishop, who was born in the fourth century and always loved children, Jeanne Fleming, the event’s founder, said.
He took in all of the children regardless of race or religious background Fleming said.
Eventually he sailed from Spain to the Netherlands, she said,
Last week Kingston played the role of Spain in Sinterklaas, while Rhinebeck represents Holland.
Fleming admitted she changes a few things up when it comes to the tradition of the holiday, which first made its way to the Hudson Valley with Dutch settlers in the 1600s. With time that tradition evolved into today’s Santa Claus, Fleming said
While the holiday originally judged children as good or bad, Fleming’s version honors them.
Crowns and branches, traditionally used to punish children, become symbolic of wishes the children share with the Wish Lady.
Kids can make their own crowns and branches at the firehouse from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m..
On a recent Monday Fleming was at her tidy two-story 19th century home overlooking the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge on the sprawling Rokeby property putting the finishing touches on Sinterklaas.
Fleming is helped by a large corps of volunteers who help to make crowns and branches and the large puppets during several weeks of workshops at the Rhinebeck Methodist Church on Market Street.
Shelves in her office are flanked by puppets of the honored animals of years past which include the horse and honeybees.
This year’s honored animal is the owl, she said adding that everyone could use a bit of wisdom in this year.
Each year the honored animal is blessed by a local Episcopal priest in a special ceremony, Fleming said.
On a counter next to her computer was a model of a cuckoo clock.
That model will be transformed into a larger than life working cuckoo clock that kids can walk into, Fleming said.
Throughout the day children can visit the Pocket Lady who invites them inside her rainbow-colored cape to pick out a present from her many pockets or the Polar Bear and his trainer.
At first he was a ferocious polar bear, but then he discovered he loved music, Fleming said.
The festivities tell the history of the local area, starting with Native American traditions, and working through the arrival of the Dutch, and then celebrating the many other groups of immigrants who have called the Hudson Valley home ever since, she said.
The tale even tackles some of the more challenging aspects of the Hudson Valley’s history including slavery, which lasted from the 1600s up until the 1830s.
“Reggie Harris sings slave songs, and tells the story about slavery in America,” Fleming said.
Another tradition is the Snow King and Queen played by Northern Dutchess hospital chief Jamie Hewitt and his wife Jamie this year. Past Snow Kings and Queens have included the Banta Family who own the Historic Beekman Arms and Tavern and have connections to the earliest Dutch settlers, Fleming said.
The Grumpuses, which Fleming described as kind of creepy characters who have their origins in the Balkans, are also a fan favorite as they make their way around Rhinebeck.
Fleming admitted they were kind a of an acquired taste for area kids.
“At first the kids were kind of afraid of them, but now they love them,” Fleming said.
Other entertainment options include a special onering Sintercirkus at Upstate Films at 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m., and musical performances ranging form Bard College’s Georgian Choir at the Third Evangelical Lutheran Church on Livingston Street at 2:30 p.m. to local children’s music act Dog on Fleas at the Town Hall on East Market Street at 1 p.m. to a special performance where Reggie Harris joins folk-act Betty and Baby Boomers at the Methodist Church, also on Market Street at 4 p.m.
The historic Beekman Arms hosts several performances including the Leela Puppet Theater at 1:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m., Roger the Jester at 2 p.m. Grian MacGregor and her Ivy Vine Players puppet show at 2:30 p.m., Tom Hanford’s Puppets at 3 p.m., Story Crafters at 3:30 p.m. and the Hungry March Band at 4 p.m..
Perhaps the most popular part of Sinterklaas is the Starlight Parade, which Fleming described as more of a procession than a parade,
It steps off from near the Starr Library at 6 p.m., and proceeds along Market Street through the village to the municipal parking lot.
The parade happens between the end of the Jewish Sabbath and the beginning of Christian Sabbath, and it brings the community together, Fleming said.
Sinterklaas leads the parade, which also features a lighted peace dove and a horse puppet that visits each child.
Fleming said the puppet replaced a real horse, which proved to be too problematic.
Then during a starlight ceremony where the adults hold 2,500 illuminated stars, the children are crowned as kings and queens, she said.
The festivities wrap up with an after party with On the Lam Band and The Forefathers of Funk at Liberty Lounge on Montgomery Street at 8 p.m..
Fleming said she created Sinterklaas 30 years ago to be a strictly non-religious celebration.
She met with local Jewish leaders to strike the holiday of any Christian connections.
But she wanted the a symbol where the community together.
Eventually she said they settled on a star, which long guided mariners.
It soon became a popular pastime in Rhinebeck, but then it disappeared do to lack of funds, Fleming said.
That hiatus would stretch for 20 years, until 2008 when it returned.
Now Sinterklaas is more popular than ever with the festivities being featured prominently in materials that promote Rhinebeck, Fleming said.
PHOTOS BY TANIA BARRICKLO-DAILY FREEMAN Violet Glez, a long-time volunteer, builder and performer with Sinterklaas, works on a giant owl’s head.
Suzy Morris of Tivoli, the costume designer and builder for Sinterklaas, works on some ascots, or ties, for the cuckoo clock attendants that will be part of the Rhinebeck celebration on Saturday.
The owl is the honored animal for this year’s Sinterklaas. Above is a giant owl head that will be part of puppets in the procession.