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Volume 16, No. 9 - December 7, 2009



A Sinterklaas display the Netherlands

Dutch debate Sinterklaas' "Black Pete"

By Caroline Nelissen in ERMELO, Netherlands --  While children in most Christmas-celebrating countries find presents under the Christmas tree, Dutch children look forward to gifts during their Sinterklaas celebration.

Sinterklaas is a celebration in honor of Saint Nicholas, with a lot of customs. There are traditional songs and even special television shows for children. Sinterklaas travels, so the story goes, from Spain to the Netherlands in a steamboat filled with gifts.

Though December 6 is the anniversary of the death of St. Nicholas, the main celebration is held here on Sinterklaas Eve, the evening of December 5.

The fun starts weeks ahead of time. In November, most towns organize a parade to welcome Sinterklaas, who rides into town on a white horse.

In the weeks that follow, children can put a shoe in front of the fireplace before they go to sleep about once a week. They often put a drawing for Sinterklaas and a carrot and hay for his horse in it.

Much like the American Santa Claus tradition – which may have been derived from Sinterklaas, brought to the United States by Dutch settlers – children of the Netherlands believe that Sinterklaas has a big book that tells how each of them behaved over the past year.

If a child has been good, Sinterklaas will put candy or a small present in his or her shoe. In the past, children were told they would be taken to Spain in a jute sack if they’d been naughty, but nowadays, most parents don’t do that anymore.

Some Sinterklaas customs are sweet.

Families get together and eat traditional candy that’s associated with the Sinterklaas celebrations, like speculaas, pepernoten (tiny round speculaas cookies) and marzipan.

Chocoladeletters, letters made of chocolate, are very popular as well, and people usually get the first letter of their first name.

But one part of the holiday – the story of Sinterklaas’ servant, Zwarte Piet, or Black Pete – is getting some criticism.

  Read whole story


Photos by Caroline Nelissen/


Recession is clobbering kids, officials told

By Kiernan Majerus-Collins in HARTFORD, Connecticut, U.S.A -- From an ancient professor testifying on welfare to a 4-year-old girl whose only comment was her name, a wide variety of people came out to testify Saturday before the state legislature’s Task Force on Children in the Recession. Most of those who spoke were young, but not all.

It is time that “youth counted in on the discussion and partisan gridlock counted out,” said Calvin Brown, a 17-year-old junior at Bristol Eastern High School.

“The stories told today will mark a new” era “in the interaction between children and their government,” said Brown, a member of U.S. Rep. John Larson’s Congressional Youth Cabinet.   Read whole story


Schools lack textbooks

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Juan Pachececo, left, and Dekevious Russaw in the Legislative Office Building in Hartford, Connecticut.

Francis Byrne/Youth Journalism International

By Francis Byrne in HARTFORD, Connecticut, U.S.A. -- It’s hard to focus on learning when it’s 102 degrees in the classroom, said Juan Pachececo, an 11-year-old Hartford boy.

A scarcity of books doesn’t help either, said Dekevious Russaw, a 10-year-old student at West Middle School in Hartford.

Pachececo and Russaw both testified at a legislative hearing Saturday about how the economic recession is affecting children.

Pachececo said his school did not have an air-conditioning system, so in the winter they had to wear jackets while in the summer they suffered through sweltering heat.

Russaw said that he thought his school was “not so bad” and that all he wanted was some more textbooks.  Read whole story



Trying to get by in tough times

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Latasha Fitzwilliams at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford, Connecticut.

Mary Majerus-Collins/

By Yelena Samofalova and Mary Majerus-Collins in HARTFORD, Connecticut, U.S.A. -- Latasha

 Fitzwilliams is one of many Americans affected by poverty.

“In our fridge right now, there’s about two things: a half bottle of juice and a box of eggs,” said the 20-year-old from Hartford.

That’s supposed to be food for five people: her sick mother, her unemployed stepfather and two siblings.

A bright girl, Fitzwilliams finished two cooking programs and has five certifications, but still can’t get a job in this tough economy.  Read whole story




As fans across the globe start to focus on World Cup 2010, take a look back at our coverage of the 2002 and 2006 World Cup -- and get ready for coverage of the next round soon!






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