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In the Netherlands, drawing names ('lootjes trekken' in Dutch), an activity well connected to St. Nicholas ('Sinterklaas' in Dutch), and more recently also to Christmas, began somewhere in the fifties of the previous century. While small children have been receiving gifts on December 5th by St. Nicholas for centuries, now the 'bigger children' decided to participate in this celebration as well.
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The concept of drawing names (or 'doing a secret santa') was introduced, where family members or friends would write their name and one or two gift ideas on a piece of paper. These names where then put in a hat for example.
Everyone should take turns to draw a single name out of the hat. Fate then decided -sometimes after a few tries- for whom you were supposed to buy a gift, make a rhyme and/or an extraordinarily wrapped gift.
They settled over the amount of money to be spent on the gift. Parents would contribute in case the children were not able to come up with the amount of money themselves. According to legend, the level of enjoyment brought to families and friends by an evening full of extraordinarily wrapped gifts was high.
St. Nicholas celebration
In the Netherlands the character of Sinterklaas is distinct from Santa Claus (or Father Christmas). Sinterklaas is traditionally celebrated on the 5th of December, with songs, chocolate letters, pepernoten (ginger nuts), speculaas (spiced biscuits), marzipan and hot chocolate. Sinterklaas is accompanied by his helper Zwarte Piet (black pete).
Gift giving for St. Nicholas was not a common thing before World War II. The crisis years played a big role. The increasing prosperity after the war offered more space to give to others, a gift party for St. Nicholas that fits the Dutch tradition.
St. Nicholas transformed from a invisible generous man to a grandpa-like children's friend, that visited the children at home with a bag full of presents in company of the black petes. Parents gave their children at first mostly home made gifts. Later they bought presents.
Even large companies like de Hoogovens, Shell e.a. made sure that the children of their employees and members lacked for nothing during St. Nicholas.
A gift, a poem and funny gift wrappings
In the Netherlands the gift is often accompanied by a Sinterklaas rhyme that mocks events in the past year, relating to the person drawn. It’s a good opportunity to legitimately ‘nag’ your family, friends or colleagues in a humorous way, possibly highlighting blunders the person has made in the past year.
The gifts themselves may be just an excuse for the wrapping, which can be quite elaborate. The gift is given anonymously and the drawn person must guess who their giver is.
To draw names all people involved should get together. For people living far apart this could be a problem. Since the rise of the internet this problem has been solved.
The web site www.lootjestrekken.nl will draw names anonymously and from a distance. In the year 2015 Lootjestrekken.nl celebrated it's 15th anniversary.
Since 2016 the website is also available in English en German.
DrawNames.com is the international sister site of Lootjestrekken.nl.
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