So today, december 5th we celebrate ‘Sinterklaas’ here in Holland! Since I like to read about festive celebrations from other cultures, I thought it might be fun to tell the non-dutchies something about Sinterklaas and how it’s celebrated. Basically, the Sinterklaas holiday is the same as christmas, but without the elves, reindeers and the tree. We do have the old men though. I’ll explain all about it in this post!
I’m not going to bore you with a history class but here is a very brief summary about how the celebration of Sinterklaas began: The real Sinterklaas is St. Nicolaus living in Turkey around the year 300. He was an honorable man very good to children (the real story on how he became the patron of children isn’t quite clear though) and for some reason he moved to Spain. After he died he was honored every year and since december 6th was his dying day this became his national day. The celebration started with poor children putting their shoes near the church and the richer people filling them up with food or small presents, and nowadays children place their shoes in their homes and receive Ipads! (nope that’s not true, although some might do so)
Sinterklaas still lives in Spain together with many ‘Zwarte Pieten’ (Black Peters) and every year around mid november he comes to Holland by steamsphip nr 12, also called the ‘pakjesboot’ (present ship). So, he has a lot of Zwarte Pieten which can be compared to Santa’s elves. You have a Piet for everything, the present wrapping piet, the guiding piet, the music piet, the baking piet etcetera etcetera. The pieten are really cool and they’re the ones bringing all the presents to the kids on december 5th and filling up their shoes during the night. While Santa has his Rudolph, Sinterklaas has Americo, a white horse. The horse is a pretty special one since it can walk on the rooftops. This, of course comes in pretty handy since the presents are brought to the kids via the chimney.
From the moment that Sinterklaas arrives in the country until December 5th, kids will place their shoes before bedtime and in the morning they will find a small gift there. Me and my sister were allowed to place our shoes one day per week and I was always so excited waking up and finding sweets and a present in my shoe. Then on December 5th it is ‘pakjesavond’ (present evening) A big sack full of presents is placed by the front door by Piet, who then bangs on the door really loud so you know your presents have arrived. I always had a minor heart attack when this happend and was a bit disappointed I didn’t see Piet in the street anymore 😦
When children don’t believe in Sinterklaas anymore most families still celebrate it. We used to put all our names on a paper and put it in a bowl. Everybody then got to pick one paper and for that person we bought a present, which had to be creatively disguised (we call it a surprise, like in French) and accompanied by a poem teasing the person. Mostly about bad habits or stupid things somebody did in the past year 😉
Together with this holiday there are some treats that can only be bought during this time of year. My absolute favorite are the chocolate ‘pepernoten’. You can buy them around September – December together with the other Sinterklaas candy, also zwarte Piet hands these out to the children on the street. From the moment Sinterklaas arrives you will see Pieten in the city a lot and it’s so much fun watching little kids react on them! Next to the pepernoten we also have chocolate letters (some very pretty decorated), ‘taai taai’ cookies and marzipan.
For the people reading this that do know Sinterklaas and celebrate it today: Enjoy! For the others: I hope you liked to read something about Sinterklaas and how it’s celebrated. It was actually quit hard to explain & to translate haha!
Talk to you later,