The tradition of Sinterklaas in the Netherlands

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The tradition of Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas) in the Netherlands is for sure really important for children, probably even more than Christmas itself. 

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Ready to discover this important Dutch tradition?
Who was Sinterklaas? The story of the tradition

The name Santa Claus comes from the name Sinterklaas and in fact in order to not confuse it with the Christmas Santa Claus, in the Netherlands it is called Kerstman ( literally Christmas man).

The original Saint Nicholas was a Bishop of Myra in Asia Minor in the first half of the 4th Century. By the late middle ages, his death or birth into heaven was celebrated annually. He was used to come back every year bearing gifts for all the good children and punishing others.

Nowadays, Sinterklaas arrives in the Netherlands and Flanders in November from Spain: the main belief is that Spanish sailors brought his legend here. 

The arrival and the celebrations

Sinterklaas or St. Nicholas day is on the 6th of December, but here in the Netherlands it is celebrated on the 5th of December.

On the second Saturday of November (the first Saturday after the 11th of November) it starts the celebration time when Sinterklaas travels to a city or town in the Netherlands and arrives by boat. Normally it follows a parade where he rides his white horse (Schimmel) accompanied by his helpers, the Zwarte Pieten (Black Pieters).
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When he arrives all the local church bells ring in celebration. He leads a procession through each town, riding a white horse. It is nice to see the crazy acting of the Zwarte Pieten around.
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St. Nicholas and the Zwarte Pieten distribute candies and sweet to children.

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In these days the children are particularly happy (and also the parents).

It is told that Zwarte Pieten keep a sort of diary of all the things that the children have done during the past year. Good children will get presents from Sinterklaas, whereas bad children will be put in a sack and the Zwarte Pieten will take them to Spain for a year to teach them how to behave :-)

In this period, children leave a shoe close to the fireplace or somewhere else hoping that Sinterklaas will come during the night to fill the shoe with some presents. Children are also told that if they leave some hay and carrot this will feed Sinterklaas horse and he will give even more presents.

They also know that Sinterklaas rides on the roofs and the Zwarte Pieten climb down the chimney ( or through a window) and put the presents or candies into their shoes. Children are also told that he might come every week so they leave their shoe out from the arrival to the 5th of December.
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The main party takes place on the 5th of December, called Sinterklaasavond or Pakjesavond (present evening). Children will get the presents during the evening or someone could knock on the door and they might find a sack full of presents.

That night also there are treasure hunt games: children follow the clues and they can also find little presents left by Sinterklaas.

On the 6th of December, Sinterklaas leaves the Netherlands via the port of Rotterdam to come back to Spain.

Special sweets and biscuits

For sure this time has also its own special sweets and biscuits. In particular, the pepernoten are the biscuits made with cinnamon and spices.
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The typical sweets are called "banketletter" (letter cake) and are made from marzipan and pastry. They are made in letters and during parties you can find the letters of the first name of the participants.

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Do you want to know other Dutch traditions? Or know something more about the Netherlands? Visit the Dutch corner section!

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