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Sinterklaas, a Dutch holiday explained

Updated on December 7, 2009

In the Netherlands there is a special celebration on the 5th of december. It is comparable to christmas, but with a Dutch twist.

Sinterklaas is an old man, who has been around for a very long time, like santa. And like santa he likes to hand out presents. Sinterklaas lives in Spain and once a year he comes to the Netherlands on his steamboat for his birthday. He arrives at the end of November together with his helpers and his white horse. The helpers are called Black Petes. They are black because they are always crawling through the chimneys of every house to deliver the presents. As soon as the Sint is in the country, kids all over get excited. Every week they get to put one shoe under the chimney. In your shoe you put carrots for the Sints horse, and a present wish list. And often something sweet to chew on, for the Sint and his helpers. The kids also sing Sinterklaas songs, to get the Sint in a good mood. Then at night, Sint and his Petes walk over the roofs and the Petes jump down the chimneys. They collect the things in the shoes and exchange them for presents and chocolate letters. That is, if you were a good kid all year. If you weren’t you have to watch out, because he just might take you back to Spain with him as punishment.

Then on the fifth of December it is the Sints birthday. This day there is a lot of singing for Sinterklaas. In the evening he and his Petes go around and deliver big bags of presents everywhere. The difference with Christmas presents is that every present has a little poem with it. These poems are usually used to tease people and point out their flaws, but in a funny and nice way.

After the kids get older and don’t believe in the existence of the Sint anymore, it gets even better. Everyone buys everyone presents and writes poems. You also get one ‘secret santa’. For this person you have to make something in addition to the gift and the poem. This is called a ‘surprise’. It does not have to be something they will use or keep. For example is someone is a marathon runner, you can craft a runner made with papier maché. Or for a cat lover you can make a cat. It is custom to hide their gift inside the ‘surprise’.

It is very much a family holiday, which you celebrate on the fifth. It is cold and dark, so everyone gathers around inside. You unwrap presents, read the poems out loud, laugh at the surprises, and drink hot chocolate. And of course there is a whole range of candy and cookies that are made especially for Sinterklaas and only available around this time.

But because of globalization and the influence of the media, christmas is becoming more and more popular, causing people to leave the old tradition of Sinterklaas and his gifts with poems behind. Where we always had christmas trees, but never gifts under them, people now abandon Sinterklaas and just do presents at Christmas.

Do you have special holidays that are celebrated only in your country or area? Let me know!


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    • Mieka profile image

      Mieka 7 years ago

      Thanks Julie, it's a great celebration. I am writing my poems for this year right now actually :)

    • profile image

      Julie 7 years ago

      Great explanation...