Sinterklaas, Wie kent hem niet. That is one of the lyrics of the famous songs. Sinterklaas, who doesn’t know him.
As a Dutchie and someone born on December 5th, Sinterklaas is special for me. It is my favorite holiday. I would love to explain the holiday.
I do have to warn you. Most of the time when I explain it, people think I am crazy. But hey, I am still a Dutchie and we are known to be a bit weird.
Who is Sinterklaas?
If you translate Sinterklaas in English you get Santa Claus. But I can tell you, Santa Klaus in the Kerstman in Dutch. Do you still get it?
We have two big holidays in December. Sinterklaas and Christmas. They are two very different things. Well, they both have good food and presents, but the story is different.
So the name Sinterklaas is a nickname for Saint Nicolaas. He is the patron saint of children. A greek bisshop. He lived in the years 270 to 343.
His outfit exist of a red cape over a traditional white bishops alb. He also wears his red mitre and his big shepherd’s staff with a curled top.
He is portrayed as an elderly, wise man with white long hair and a long beard.
Sinterklaas always carries his big red book. In this book he can find if the child has been good of naughty in the past year.
Sinterklaas doesn’t work alone. Because he has the whole country to cover in one night, he has the Zwarte Pieten, (black pete), They are dressed in Moorish clothes and in blackface. They are known for the colorful dress, with a ruff and a feathered cap.
*You might have heard the big dissussion about this. A lot of people say it is racist. My personal opinion is that it is okay. If you know the story it is in no way negative.*
The Zwarte Pieten always carry big bag full with presents of candy for the children. They toss it around.
There are different stories about why they have black faces. Some say they are a Moor from Spain and some say that it is blacked by the soot of the chimneys.
Nowadays there are a lot of different Pieten. They have some sootmarks instead of a total blackface. Some of orange, brown or purple. The people do this so the racism part is a bit less.
Sinterklaas also has a beautiful white horse. His name is Amerigo.
The childrens’s story
Sinterklaas is a saint that lives in Spain. Every year in November, he takes his steamboats and all his Pieten to Holland. Full of gifts, his horse and all the candy.
When he arrives in the harbour, everyone is waiting on him. He shakes hands and talks to the children while the Pieten give everyone candy.
That night, all the children and parents put one of their shoes at the chimney or back door. They put an orange in there, together with their wishlist, a carrot and they sing some special songs.
What they put in their shoe and why?
- Orange: Sinterklaas is from Spain, the land of the oranges. He must be hungry from visiting every house, so he probably wants some food.
- Wishlist: What they want for presents. They know it is not necessary as Sinterklaas has his big red book with everything he needs to know.
- A carrot: Sinterklaas rides his horse Amerigo on the rooftops, and most Dutch people are animal lovers, so he also deserves a treat.
The next morning, the orange, carrot and wishlist are gone and the shoe is filled with candy and maybe a small present.
How I experienced it, was that I wanted to place my shoe every night. Of course, that is not the idea. So some families do it only on saturdays, some every night. this depends on the family.
I actually remember going downstairs sometimes after my parents are asleep to place my shoe and sing some songs. In the hope that I would get the candy and a gift.
Too bad that most of the times this didn’t work. But sometimes I actually got some candy!
After about 2 weeks, the real party starts. These 2 weeks were full of songs, activities at school and more. But December 5th was the party. It’s also known as Present Evening. (Pakjesavond).
The whole family joins for dinner and sings the songs while watching Sinterklaas movies or playing games. Suddenly, there is a loud knock or crash.
The kids go see what it is and they find a gigantic bag full of toys. We all throw it on the floor and pick one gift at the time. There is a label with a name and that is the one that picks the next gift.
It is a night full of presents, sweets, happiness and joy.
In some houses, Sinterklaas and his Pieten stop by to give the presents in person.
The bad part
This sound all good and nice. But kids can also be a bit scared for Sinterklaas and his Pieten.
There is one famous song and it reads : the good kids get candy the bad ones get the cane.
The story of this is that the bad and misbehaved kids have to get into the big bags and join Sinterklaas to Spain. Work the whole year to make the presents for the other kids.
So the weeks before Sinterklaas is in the country, everyone will be very nice and play with everyone. No more locking your sister in the bathroom, stealing that nice sweater from your sister etc.
Sinterklaas knows everything and you want the candy.
*I have to say, around this time, babysitting would be so easy and fun!*
The morning of December 6th, the birthday of Sinterklaas, is the end of the holiday. He is back to Spain to prepare for next year.
There are a lot of songs for Sinterklaas.
I took a few of the most fun and famous one and put the English text next to it. Please remember that the original is Dutch and it might makes more sense in Dutch.
If you feel adventurous, look them up on youtube and try and sing along. Don’t forget to let me know what you think of them!
Zie ginds komt de stoomboot
Look there is the steamer from far-away lands
it brings us Saint Nicholas he’s waving his hands
his horse is a-prancing on deek up and down
the bamers are waving in village and town
See Peter is laughing and tells everyone
the good kids get candy the bad ones get none
Oh dearest St. Nicholas if Pete and you would
just visit our house for we all have been good
Nicholas I beg of you
Drop into my little shoe
Something sweet or sweeter
Thank you Saint and Peter
Hoor wie klopt daar kinderen
Hear who knocks there children
hear who taps there children
hear who raps against the window panes
it’s a stranger surely
who is lost here surely
let us ask him what may be his name
Saint Nicholas, Saint Nicholas
pay us a call tonight please do
we’ve put hay and carrots
in each and ev’ry shoe
Zie ginds komt de stoomboot
Zie, ginds komt de stoomboot uit Spanje weer aan
Hij brengt ons Sint Nicolaas. Ik zie hem al staan.
Hoe huppelt zijn paardje. Het dek op en neer
Hoe waaien de wimpels al heen en al weer
Zijn knecht staat te lachen en roept ons reeds toe
Wie zoet is krijgt lekkers, Wie stout is de roe
Och, lieve Sint Nicolaas, Och, kom ook bij mij
En rijd toch niet stilletjes Ons huisje voorbij
Gooi wat in mijn schoentje
Gooi wat in mijn laarsje
Dank u Sinterklaasje
Hoor wie klopt daar kinderen
Hoor wie klopt daar kind’ren
Hoor wie stapt daar kind’ren
Hoor wie tikt daar zachtjes tegen ‘t raam
‘t Is een vreemd’ling zeker
Die verdwaald is zeker
‘k Zou hem gauw eens vragen naar zijn naam
Sint Nicolaas, Sint Nicolaas
Breng ons vanavond een bezoek
En strooi dan wat lekkers
In één of andere hoek
What are typical Sinterklaas snacks?
So there are different candies and snacks we eat with Sinterklaas. To be honest, you can already buy everything around September. Every year, the supermarkts sell it earlier.
Kruitnoten are small cruncy drops with a speculaas flavor. There are different kinds. Nowadays you have the original, chocolate, coffee, yoghurt and probably a lot more flavors.
Pepernoten are soft and chewy. A lot of people mix kruitnoten and pepernoten with the names. But offically, pepernoten are the soft ones.
Speculaas is a Dutch cookie. But with Sinterklaas you have the special kind. It is a big doll made of the cookie or two layers of the cookie filled with almondpaste.
Schuimpjes are soft and chewy. You have them in different figures and colors. Like animals, or Sinterklaas themed and more.
Or tough tough in English. This is a very chewy and tough cookie. It has a very specific taste and structure and is not for everyone. Most of the time they are in the shape of a Black piet or a little human.
You have these everywhere and in so many different kinds. It is just a letter from chocolate. You have them with nuts, candy or any combination you want.
Or Marzipan. You might now it from wedding or birthday cakes. The nice colored layer. But we eat it pure. It is an almond paste.
It used to be just in the shape of fruit. But nowadays you can find it in the shape of sushi, animals, shoes, and whatever you can think of.
On this picture you can find a chocolate letter, Taai Taai, Kruitnoten and schuimpjes.
Sinterklaas for older kids
So between the ages 8-10 the children stop believing in Sinterklaas. The school stops with the story and must parents also.
For the older kids, it is not just finished. Most schools do Surprises. You can compare it a bit with Secret Santa.
All the names go into a pot. On this little paper you write: your wishlist, your hobbies and your name. Everyone grabs one.
Then the fun part begins. You have 2 weeks to make something. This can be from old boxes to cement or anything you can image. It is supposed to represent the one you picked. In this creating, you hide the present.
You also write a poem and add it to the surprise.
On the day the school celebrates Sinterklaas, all these surprises are in the middle of the class. Someone gets blindfolded and has to say stop, while the teacher points at different surprises. Once he says stop, that is the one you start with.
When it is the surprise with your name on it, you read the poem, find the present, guess who made it and then pick out the next one. This continues untill everone opened there surprise.
Some families decide they want to keep doing something and do something like this at home. My family did it with presents and a poem. We didn’t have to make a whole creation around it. But you can bet that when I had my little brother, there were a lot of zipties and ducktape involved.
Sinterklaas for Adults
There are a lot of options to celebrate Sinterklaas when you are 16+. Here are a few:
Be a Piet.
You can volunteer to be a Black Piet in the activities the town organises. Or if you have(or am_ an enthousiastic dad, even play Sinterklaas and his Pieten and visit houses.
Dobbelen is a fun game you can play. You just need your family or some friends for it and one dice.
- Set the budget. Like 3 gifts, €15,- total.
- Make sure every gift is packed separately.
- Decide what each number on the dice will mean. For Exemple:
- Gifts 1 to the right
- Sing a song
- Unpack a gift / claim a gift
- Gifts 2 to the left
- Choose a gift / Steal a gift
- Give a gift away.
- Place all the gifts in the middle and start throwing.
- With number 5^ you can choose a gift from the middle. After all the gifts are choosen, then switch to steal a gift.
- When every gift is unpacked, you can claim a gift you have in your lap.
- Make sure everyone ends with 3 gifts.
We liked to play 2 times. one time with 3 presents of €2,- max. like the toiletpaper or something else stupid. And then one with 2 gifts of €10,- each. The real game.
When you are a parent, you have the fun part. While your kids are asleep, empty their shoes, fill it with presents. Act like it was Sinterklaas.
While everyone is playing a game, go to the ‘toilet’, run outside, knock on the door, leave the presents, run back and act surprised.
Watch the joy on the faces.
Sinterklaas, a weird holiday
So whenever I try to explain this it goes a bit like this:
‘So its a saint from Spain, he has helpers that are black and very nice. They throw candy at you. When you are sweet, you get presents. When you are naughty, you have to get into his bag and he takes you to Spain. The holiday itself is only one date, but we celebrate is for 2-3 weeks.
Ohh yeah, the candy is already in the stores in September. and they get into your house through the chimney or just your backdoor. It’s like Santa Claus, but not really’
But I guess, that if you read the longer story like here, it doesn’t sound as weird as it does in the short version.
Ah and one question everyone asks me: ‘Isn’t is horrible to have a birthday on a holiday?’ The answer is no. I always got way more gifts then my brother and sister and that was amazing. Like who doesn’t want to get more presents then others? It makes you feel special.
Please let me know what you think and if you would like to experience it once!