Stroopwafel and Boterkoek from Dutch Desserts in Kinderhook were among the examples of “Dutch Taste & Traditions” event held recently at the Albany Institute of History & Art.
According to the Institute’s website:
“This special day…features an educational program about Dutch traditions and how they influenced life in early New York, a Delft tile decorating art-making activity, and Dutch desserts in the Museum Café.”
Despite dreary precipitation that went back and forth between rain and snow, the museum’s Key Cultural Center held a standing-room-only crowd for a presentation from Sam Huntington, Historic Site Assistant at Crailo State Historic Site in Rensselaer, who delivered a talk entitled, “Sinterklaas, Solemn Festivals, and Scandalous and Unseemly Celebrations: Dutch Holiday Traditions in Early Albany.”
Huntington presented an overview of three holidays for which written records exist to prove they were celebrated in Dutch Albany – New Year’s Eve, Pinkster and Christmas.
The evidence for New Year’s Eve celebrations comes from court records. As it turns out, alcohol and firearms were no better a combination in the 1600s than they are now. The Court of Fort Orange issued a prohibition in December, 1659, against “any of the burghers or inhabitants of the Village of Beverwijk from shooting on New Year’s Day, on account of the great damage and disorder which such firing causes.”
In 1654, Director-General of New Netherland had to put a stop to other year-end celebrations, in a proclamation that would foreshadow actions of Albany lawmakers in the early 19th century.
Peter Stuyvesant declared that no one in Fort Orange should “pull the goose or shoot the parrot, not matter what the pretext may be, for the reason that not only many improprieties thereby take place, but the farm hands and other servants not only cease from their service, but also engage in other insolent activities such as fighting, beating, cursing and swearing.”
Huntington supposed that some of the farm hands and servants mentioned by Stuyvesant may in fact have been enslaved people, as the first slave laborers arrived in New Netherland in the mid-1620s. Trading had long been the cornerstone of the Dutch economy, and as the population of enslaved people from different parts of Africa grew, their colonial Catholic and indigenous religious traditions began to change traditionally Dutch holidays.
Case in point: Pinkster Day. What began as the Dutch celebration of marking the Christian holy day of Pentecost became a weeklong period for enslaved Africans to gather with friends and family. However, by the early 1800s, as New York wrestled with the issue of manumission, concern grew that the celebration could spark an uprising.
The celebration of Pinkster Day was outlawed by Albany Common Council on April 28, 1811, with a resolution that read: “No person shall erect any tent, booth or stall within the limits of this city, for the purpose of vending any spirituous liquors, beer, mead or cider, or any kind of meat, fish cakes or fruit, on the days commonly called Pinxter; nor to collect in numbers for the purpose of gambling or dancing, or any other amusements, in any part of the city, or to march or parade, with or without any music under a penalty of ten dollars or confinement in jail.”
(Don’t worry, would-be Pinkster revelers, members of the University Club of Albany requested that the Common Council repeal the ban, and the prohibition was lifted after 200 years on May 16, 2011. Save the date: May 31, 2020.)
Sinterklass – a major inspiration for Santa Claus – was mentioned at least once in Dutch Albany, when Maria Van Rensselaer included the item “Sinterklass goodies” on a shopping list. She and her family would have celebrated St. Nicholas Day (December 6) when Sinterklass brought small treats to children, leaving them in their shoes – but only if they had been good all year!
This Dutch tradition was the also the inspiration for Clement Clark Moore’s poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” which was first published anonymously in the Troy Sentinel on December 23, 1823. The authorship has been disputed, but whoever wrote it owes a tip of the hat to Washington Irving, who penned “A History of New York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynast”y in 1809 under the name of Diedrich Knickerbocker. It included this passage:
“And when St. Nicholas had smoked his pipe, he twisted it in his hatband, and laying his finger beside his nose, gave the astonished Van Kortlandt a very significant look; then, mounting his wagon, he returned over the tree-tops and disappeared.”
Colleen M. Ryan has always been a storyteller. An innovative communications professional with experience in government, nonprofit and business sectors, she recently launched CMR Communications.