Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Hi guys!

Since I'm a Dutch girl and our Dutch traditions are probably very vague for all the people in the rest of the world, I'd like to explain a typical Dutch tradition: Sinterklaas!

Sinterklaas is a word derived from he name of Sint Nicolaas (Saint Nicolas) who was a bishop. The awesome man actually existed. Officially he lived in Turkey and he came to The Netherlands by steamboat (lovely). He lived from the year 270 until the year 343. He was known for helping the children. This is why in France for example, he was seen as the saint of children (hence the Saint in his name). Annually the Catholic church celebrated his life after his death, on the day he died (the 6th of December). The feast evolved into a day to help the poor by putting money in their shoes. Nicolas had black people helping him. They are currently referred to as Zwarte Pieten (black Petes) (I know, it's super racist but it's normal in The Netherlands) (not to be a racist but the black Petes).

When The Netherlands became a Protestant country, the celebration of Sinterklaas kind of died out. In the nineteenth century however some bloke wrote a book about Sinterklaas and his servant (Sinterklaas en zijn knecht) in which he described Sinterklaas giving the children presents through the chimney into their shoes while riding on his horse called Amerigo on the rooftops. Seriously, that man is one awesome guy.

Anyway, this kept evolving and suddenly this is how it all goes:

First, on a saturday around the 17th of November (this date is different every year, it's always a saturday) Sinterklaas and his Pieten arrive by steamboat in some city in The Netherlands with a haven. This city changes every year too. There are actors dressed as Sinterklaas and LOTS of Pieten. The Pieten are actually not really black but they use a lot of make up.
This event is filmed live and broadcast on the national television. All the little kids (probably until they're about four/five years old) believe Sinterklaas is real and are obviously very exited about all the presents. Sinterklaas gets of his boat, on his horse (who magically is already ashore) and does a tour around the city with performances and people on the sides of the roads. His Piets walk around too and give the children candy and Pepernoten (sort of like cinnamon cookies only tiny round lovely crunchy delicious thingies) and accept all the drawings the children have made for Sinterklaas.

After this they go to the Pietenhuis (The house of Petes) (it's sounding weirder and weirder explaining it like this). Then for three weeks the Pieten and Sinterklaas give the children presents in their shoes at night. Obviously this is the parents buying presents and pretending it was Sinterklaas.

In our family, since we're all grown up, we buy the presents ourselves. There's three of us and three weeks, so every saturday while Sinterklaas is in The Netherlands one of us buys the others presents. Just small ones; they have to fit in your shoe of course.

Then, on the 5th of December, we have Pakjesavond (Present night) where everyone gets together and buys each other the somewhat bigger presents. People think or pretend that this was Siant Nicolas' birthday, but actually the 6th of december was the day he died (like I said earlier in this blogpost, but it's such a long post you might have forgotten already). The grown up people put their name in a bowl (kind of like the Reaping in The Hungergames) and everyone picks one of the names, not telling the others who they picked. Everyone makes a list of things they want to receive and the one who picked their name buys some presents, writes a poem about that person and makes a 'Surprise'. A Surprise is not exactly what the word means in English. It's a homemade thing in which the presents are hidden. It's usually a personal thing, for example my mum once made the wardrobe from Narnia for me. The poem is always signed 'Sinterklaas and Piet', we don't want the little kids to suspect anything.

The parents of the little kids just buy presents and put their name on it, sometimes they add a small poem (if the kid can read).

There's also the lovely 'if you've been naughty this year, you don't get any presents' thing parents love to use. Basically Sinterklaas has this huge book with every name of every kid in The Netherlands who has been good throughout the year. Their wishlists are attached and they will receive what they want. If you've been a naughty kid, Zwarte Piet will hit you with his Roe (basically a bunch of twigs) (I know..) and take you back with them to Spain in his bag. I still don't get where Spain came from in history, I couldn't find that. The story now is that Sinterklaas comes from Spain. By the way, the thing with not receiving any presents doesn't really happen. It's just a great way to threaten your children and make them do stuff like clean their room or be quiet in class.

On the 6th of December, Sinterklaas and his Pieten pack their bags and go back to Spain.

Typical Sinterklaas candy:

- Pepernoten

- Marsepein = Marzipan

- Chocoladeletters = Chocolate letters (usually the first letter of the name of the one who receives the letter, or an S from Sinterklaas or a P from Piet)

- Hot chocolate

- Taai taai (tough tough..? haha, it's so weird translating things.. they're soooo tasty though)

Sinterklaas Songs

The kids sing lots of songs for Sinterklaas, hoping he'll be happy and give them the presents they want.
These are some well-known examples:

Sinterklaas Kapoentje
This song is the song kids sing before they put their shoe by the fireplace. I have absolutely no idea what Kapoentje (Capon) means.

Sinterklaas kapoentje,
Gooi wat in mijn schoentje!
Gooi wat in mijn laarsje,
Dank U Sinterklaasje!


Sinterklaas Capon
Throw something in my shoe
Throw something in my boot
Thank you Sinterklaas!

I don't know why he has to throw it, but alright.

The next song is when they leave again:

Dag Sinterklaasje
Dag Sinterklaasje,
daag, daag, daag, daag
Zwarte Piet

Dag Sinterklaasje
daag, daag, daag, 
Luister naar ons afscheidslied


Bye Sinterklaas
Bye bye bye bye
Black Pete

Bye Sinterklaas
Bye bye bye
Listen to our goodbye-song


I hope this has been an enlightenment, as far as you've read the whole thing. Sorry it's so long, but it's a lot to explain!

I got most of my information here and from my mind because most of this is just stuff every Dutch person knows.


I made none of these pictures, I simply searched on Google. Sorry - no credits this time..

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