The Golden Age of Hollywood

My favorite scene in Miracle on 34th St., and what the little Dutch girl says (translated)

After living in the Netherlands for eleven years, I can finally claim to speak nearly fluent Dutch. Okay, granted, it’s not the most important language in the world, but having a mastery of Dutch means I can at last understand what Kris Kringle and the little Dutch girl say to each other in Miracle on 34th St. (1947). This is my favorite scene in the film and never fails to jerk a few tears from me.

First, a little cultural background to explain the scene: Dutch children get presents from “Sinterklaas.” He arrives in the Netherlands a few weeks before the feast day of St. Nicholas (Dec. 6) and travels around the country, filling children’s shoes with candy and small toys at night while they sleep. According to Wikipedia, “This practice…came to the United States through the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam prior to the British seizure in the 17th century, and evolved into the hanging of socks or stockings at the fireplace.” When Dutch children set their shoes by the fireplace at bedtime, it’s considered very important to sing a Sinterklaas song. After all, you don’t get somethin’ for nuthin’. This is why Kris Kringle asks the little girl if she wants to sing a song for him. The song they sing in Miracle on 34th St. is one of the simplest and best known of the Sinterklaas songs.

This film was released in 1947, just two years after the end of WWII. Rotterdam, one of the largest cities in the Netherlands, was heavily bombed by the Germans and its center leveled in a single night in 1940. (See photo below.) When the adoptive mother says the little girl is from Rotterdam, it calls all of this to my mind. Since I also know the difficulty of assimilating into a foreign country, I can’t watch this scene without choking up. I understand the little girl’s joy when Kris Kringle speaks Dutch to her. (I feel this same joy every time I return to the States and some porter at the airport says to me casually, “How ya doin’?” I just want to kiss him.)

Here’s the scene, with the dialogue between Kris Kringle and the little Dutch girl translated into English:

Kris Kringle:
Well, young lady, what’s your name?

I’m sorry, she doesn’t speak English. She’s Dutch. She just came over. She’s been living in an orphan’s home in Rotterdam ever since… Well, we’ve adopted her. I told her you wouldn’t be able to talk to her, but when she saw you in the parade yesterday she said that you were “Sinterklaas,” as she calls you, and that you could talk to her. Well, I didn’t know what to do…

Kris Kringle to the little girl:
Hallo! Ik ben blij dat je gekomen bent!
(Hello! I’m glad you came!)

O, u bent Sinterklaas!
(Oh, you are Sinterklaas!)

Kris Kringle:

Ik wist dat u het zou begrijpen!
(I knew you would understand!)

Kris Kringle:
Natuurlijk! Zeg maar wat je zou willen hebben.
(Of course! Tell me what you’d like to have.)

Niets. Ik heb van alles. Ik wil alléén maar bij deze lieve dame zijn.
(Nothing. I have everything. I just want to be with this nice lady.)

Kris Kringle:
Wil je een liedje voor me zingen?
(Would you like to sing me a song?)

Kris & Girl:
Sinterklaas kapoentje,
Geef wat in mijn schoentje,
Geef wat in mijn laarsje,
Dank u, Sinterklaasje!

(Sinterklaas [untranslatable term of endearment],
Give me something in my shoe,
Give me something in my boot,
Thank you, Sinterklaas!)

In the remake of Miracle on 34th St., the little Dutch girl was replaced with a deaf girl, and Santa spoke to her in sign language. While this was touching, I think the whole idea of having Santa speak Dutch and sing the Sinterklaas song was to demonstrate that he was the real Santa Claus, who of course would know the languages and cultural traditions of every country where children believe in him, even a very small country like the Netherlands, which coincidentally (or perhaps not) is an important source of the American Santa Claus tradition.

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Comment by Paco Malo on December 16, 2011 at 12:49pm

Henry, to Echo Kevin's thoughts, great job on the historical background and context to view it in the film. Between you and Rosie, this film will never be the same for me. My most heartfelt thanks.

Comment by Paco Malo on December 13, 2011 at 8:47pm

Erratum: "... that this region of Western Europe ..."

Comment by Paco Malo on December 13, 2011 at 8:46pm

That photo of Rotterdam still gives me chills. Thanks again for sharing it; we all need to keep in mind that the region of Western Europe has traditionally, long through history, where major powers fought their wars. As Edwin Starr put it many years ago in a Top 40 hit in the U.S.,

"War! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing! Say it again ...."

Comment by kareng on December 13, 2011 at 8:17pm

Hi Rosie, thanks so much for this post.  Being half Dutch, its absolutely fascinating to hear about the Dutch traditions at Christmas.  And now I need to rent Miracle on 34th Street too, with little Natalie.  It's been a long time since I've seen it!

Comment by Rosie Sayer on September 2, 2009 at 3:05pm
Henry, I first saw De Aanslag by renting it in an American video store. If you have a VCR (some people do still have those lying about), you might be able to watch it on video. It's still available used. Here's a link to the item on Amazon:

I looked up Eine Liebe in Deutschland, and I understand why you got an odd look from your seat-mate! It doesn't look like a barrel of laughs. But your story is hilarious!
Comment by Henry X Harper on September 2, 2009 at 11:18am
Thank you, Rosie, for saying so but I don't think of myself as so well informed but I am very interested in that period of time.

I have not seen De Aanslag, and I see that it won an Oscar for best foreign film in 1987. I'm surprised that I haven't heard of it. That came out during a time when I saw a lot of films from overseas. De Aanslag sound terribly interesting to me. I remember that I saw, from just a couple of years previous, the great Andrzej Wajda's "En Leibe in Deutschland" ("A Love In Germany"), which was not a dissimilar story and I was very moved by the tragic tale. De Aanslag sounds like a film I must see. Regrettably, it's not available on DVD - darnitall!

Ironically, when I went to the theatre to see "En Leibe in Deutschland", I mis-read the calendar and thought that I was going to see "The Gods Must Be Crazy"! I remember sitting in the theatre, full of mad gleeful anticipation and saying to the total stranger next to me, "I hear this movie is hysterically funny!!" He must have thought me a whacked-out psycho!
Comment by Rosie Sayer on September 1, 2009 at 7:51am
Henry, you're certainly well informed about that period in history. Have you ever seen the film De Aanslag (The Assault)? It's set during the occupation. It concerns a boy who is orphaned because a German is killed on his street. Although everyone knows the boy's family is innocent, the Nazis kill his parents and burn down their house just to send a message. The rest of the film concerns the boy's life subsequently and his struggle to make sense of what happened.
Thank you for the detailed information about the Netherlands during the occupation. I'm pleased I could contribute something to your enjoyment of the film.
Comment by Christopher on September 1, 2009 at 12:34am
yeah..this is one of my fave blog posts on GAOH as this scene is always eagerly anticipated by me in MO34'thS for its sweet simple display of compassion..
Comment by Ktrek on August 31, 2009 at 10:47pm
And thank you Henry for an extremely well written and thought out comment! It gives me even more appreciation for this scene than I had before.

Comment by Henry X Harper on August 31, 2009 at 10:16pm
Since the Netherlands suffered through five years of Nazi occupation, with terrible repression and brutality at the hands of their occupiers, not to mention starvation and the forced labor of Dutch men in German factories (which were bombed regularly by Western allies), the Netherlands had the highest per capita death rate of all Nazi-occupied countries in Western Europe. With that in mind, one could easily imagine staggering emotional stakes for the Dutch girl, the orphaned refugee from Rotterdam, considering that her family could have been sent to their death in a concentration camp, summarily executed on the street, died of sickness or starvation or were killed as a casualty of bombing.

The Netherlands was where Anne Frank's days of hiding came to an end and soon her life and the lives of her sister and mother, would end in the camps, Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. The punishment for hiding Jews was death. One third of the people who provided shelter and hiding places for Jews did not survive the war. Additionally, the resistance movement resulted in many civilian deaths by execution, either as direct punishment to the resisters, or to "deliver a message" or "teach a lesson" to the resistance by reprisal execution killings of innocent civilians. The initial invasion of the Netherlands, in just a few days, including the bombing of Rotterdam killed some 9,000 civilians. By the end of the war, there would be some 300,000 Dutch killed in the war.

Not that the movie needed to make specific mention of these horrible things, but I'm sure that the mere mention of an orphaned refugee girl from Rotterdam, when the girl's adoptive mother says, "She's Dutch. She just came over. She's been living in an orphans home in Rotterdam ever since..." could easily cause one to conjure up frightful imagery of considerable suffering to fill-in the blank after she says "ever since..." and it would make the reaction of this girl, who, at first, appeared rather lost at sea and burdened with much sadness, all the more buoying when we see how elated she is to have such an intimate and animated conversation with Sinterklass in her own tongue.

While it's so true, that it enriches the story greatly to have Santa Claus demonstrate his universal knowledge of all the languages and traditions of the countries where children believe in him, the particular fact that the girl in this scene was not only Dutch, but also an orphaned refugee, just a year or so after the war, was of no little significance too.

I can't thank you enough for providing the translation of the Dutch into English. I could never have known what they were saying to one another. This one little scene packs such an emotional wallop, it can't be overstated.

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