Children are counting down the days as this Saturday Sinterklaas is arriving to the Netherlands. For months supermarkets are stocked up with sweets and other goodies that the old Saint supposed to be bringing for all the well-behaved kids.
To the Dutch Sinterklaas is a big thing! Kids generally wake up in the middle of the night to check if they got a present in their shoe, lots of singing in front of the chimney and the same bed-time story for weeks about a horse called Amerigo ( if you’re lucky like me, you’ll read it all year around).
If your not Dutch or just moved here, you might wonder what the fuss is all about. We have listed a basic break down and some do’s and don’ts for you.
Saint Nicholas Day
Sinterklaas is celebrated annually is arriving from Spain by boat together with a great team of helpers called Pieten, to celebrate his birthday in the Netherlands on the 5th of December. Every year a different city is chosen for his entry and will be welcomed by thousands of people and broadcasted on national television. There is even a daily newsreel called ‘Het Sinterklaasjournaal’ broadcasted on NPO 3 every day at 18.00hrs.
Sinterklaas is an elderly, stately man with white hair and a long, full beard. He almost looks like Santa Claus’ brother, but instead, Sinterklaas wears a bishop type attire and a shepherd’s staff. He carries a big, red book, called, ‘The Book of Sinterklaas,’ in which he writes down whether each child has been good or naughty in the past year.
The story goes that Sinterklaas is a 4th century Saint, from Myrah (Turkey) who shared his wealth with the poor and had the legendary habit of secret gift-giving. Today, Saint Nicholas is still celebrated as a great gift-giver in several Western European and Central European countries. In medieval times nuns used the night of 6 December to deposit baskets of food and clothes anonymously at the doorsteps of the needy. According to another source, on 6 December every sailor or ex-sailor in the Netherlands which at that time was virtually all of the male population) would descend to the harbour towns to participate in a church celebration for their patron saint.
Now that you know, we have some do’s and don’t for you that might answer your questions.
Placing your shoe near (preferably) a fire place and how often?
Traditionally the shoe is placed by the fire place, based on the idea that Piet (the helpers of Sinterklaas) enter from the roof through the chimney. In homes without a chimney, place the shoe next to the heating, by the front door or window. What to put in the shoe? A letter or drawing to Sinterklaas and a carrot, some water and hay for Sinterklaas’ horse, Amerigo. Oh don’t forget to let them sing, your child will learn the songs at school or you will find them on youtube.
And guess who is putting the gift in the shoe? Yes, you!
Some kids get a bit carried away by putting their shoe out there, every single night. As a parent it’s wise to manage expectations a little bit, by telling them that Sinterklaas doesn’t have that many presents and time, but usually manages 2 to 3 times a week to stop by.
What gifts to put in the shoe and for what price?
I really depends on the family, but generally speaking it would be something small (max € 10,-) or one of the nice delicacies which you can find at the supermarket or Bakery
Package Night (pakjes avond)
Celebrated on the 5th of December, Package night in the form as we know it has been around since the 50’s. With many home-made presents in the beginning, and as the economy grew larger and more expensive presents.
Sinterklaas and Piet leave a burlap bag in front of the door with presents for the kids with their names on it and a rhymes. If they are lucky they also get a private visit of Sint and Piet themselves.
Children are being told throughout the year to be good, so they will receive presents from Sinterklaas. If they did not behave well, parents can blackmail their kids that Sinterklaas will take them in an empty burlap bag to Spain. Whether this is pedagogically the right thing to do…. well, I guess not.
Many different delicious treats are part of the Sinterklaas party. The best known are of course the Pepernoten (spice nuts), Taai Taai (chewy-chewy), Speculaas, Marzipan, Banket letters (puff pastry filled with almond paste) and chocolate letters.
There comes a certain age, where children find out that is has been one big show. This is often where you don’t celebrate Sinterklaas at all or you do a Surprise evening. Closed tags with names and a small wishlist are drawn to be drawn amongst a group, and you all prepare each other a gift with a poem inside a Surprise, which is homemade and looks almost Piñata.
Entering of Sinterklaas
If you would like to go to an entrance of Sinterklaas with your kids this year you can go to Amsterdam Sunday 17 November. For details please check the website of Sint in Amsterdam. On a smaller scale Sint wil enter in the Stadshart of Amstelveen the day before on Saturday 16 November. Details can be found on the page of the municipality of Amstelveen.
Enjoy Sinterklaas and remember to always be good 😉