You must have noticed: Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas) has arrived in the Netherlands!
Traditionally, this is THE gift-giving event for (young) Dutch children (although many families nowadays also exchange gifts for Christmas).
Sinterklaas was a bishop who was born in (present-day) Turkey around 270 AD, and he moved to Spain at some point. This is why he nowadays arrives by steamboat from Spain. If you have been following the Sinterklaas News, you’ll know that this year the boat sank, and that they arrived in the country by plane instead. But that is another story….
Also good to know: even though Sinterklaas used to be a bishop, this celebration has nothing to do with religion.
Leading up to December 5th, the children may put their shoes out, called ‘je schoen zetten’ in Dutch.
They sing some special Sinterklaas songs, and typically leave a glass of water for the Piets (the helpers), and an apple or carrot for the horse. Why? Because the Piets climb through the chimney and Sinterklaas walks on his white horse (called Ozosnel) on the rooftops with a big bag of presents.
If the children have sung well (the Listening Piet will check!), they might find a small present in their shoes the next morning.
There is no rule, but many parents have agreed that their children may put their shoes out, on average, twice per week. Many children also put their wish list for ‘pakjesavond‘ (present evening) in their shoes, and Sinterklaas writes everything in his Big Book.
You can even download a dedicated ‘shoe calendar’ through the Sinterklaasjournaal website. If your children come home with stories that ALL children they know may put their shoes out EVERY single night – know that this is not true…
Via the Sinterklaasjournaal, you can follow daily what the Sint and the Piets are up to. It is a four-week story line. At first, everything seems to go wrong, but in the very end they manage to fix it all, fortunately. Many schools also follow this story.
It is also common that Messy Piet comes to the school at night and makes a big mess of the classroom. After the children have cleaned it all up, they fill find a class present.
There is also a Rhyme Piet, Navigation Piet, Funny Piet, Cooking Piet, Music Piet, and many more. They are managed by Head Piet (who in real life is one of the presenters of Even Tot Hier).
Sinterklaas’ birthday is on December 5th, which is celebrated with ‘pakjesavond’ (present evening), when the children get a couple of bigger presents, poems, chocolate letters and pepernoten. On this day, Sinterklaas and a handful of Piets visit many primary schools, which is a big event for the children (and a very busy day for such an old man..).
Afterwards, they go quietly back to Spain.
In the past years, there has been some controversy regarding the Piets, who used to be completely black faced. Luckily, nowadays, most Piets have sooty faces, after the chimneys they have climbed through.
Since grownups usually don’t get presents from Sinterklaas, they often celebrate their own party, comparable with Secret Santa. They make a ‘surprise‘; a handcrafted present which is somehow related to the receiver. This piece of creativity is typically accompanied by a (funny) poem. This is why you will overhear many people searching for rhyming words these days. Also children from about age 9, often make a surprise for one of their classmates.
A little bit old, but this Sinterklaas Tutorial explains the tradition of SInterklaas well, and helps you expand your Dutch vocabulary.