How is Sinterklaas celebrated in the Netherlands?

On 5th December, the Dutch traditionally celebrate Sinterklaas. The children are told about a very old Spanish bishop called Sinterklaas, who is fond of children. This Iberian prelate visits the Low Lands every year by the end of November and leaves quietly after December 5th.

The name Sinterklaas comes from Sint Niklaas, which is a variation of Sint Nikolaas (Saint Nicholas).

On the evening of 5 December the children will sing special Sinterklaas songs. When the tension has built up sufficiently, a big sack or basket is brought into the home filled with presents for the children who have behaved themselves. 

Needless to say that all this is organized by the parents, who occasionally even go as far as hiring a person disguised as the mythical bishop to visit their homes. A less elaborate performance is sometimes made by an aunt, uncle, neighbour or other adult accomplice, who will stick a black-gloved hand around the door in order to throw sweets on the floor. The children are usually too busy picking up the sweets to notice the deception.

Sinterklaas is supposed to look like a very old bishop, with a long white beard, a mitre, a red gown and a long staff. In this apparel, The bishop is reputed to ride on top of the roofs on a white horse. He is accompanied by one or more black men, who are all named Zwarte Piet. Plenty of pictures of this odd couple can be found on the Internet. Just type the word Sinterklaas into Google and click images.

When riding on the roofs Sinterklaas and his black servant throw presents into the chimneys and children who put their shoes in front of the stove will find their footwear in the morning filled with sweets and other presents. Needless to say that Sinterklaas encounters considerable difficulties in managing this feat in this age of central heating.

Quite a few Dutch cities organize a Sinterklaas arrival. Traditionally, Sinterklaas arrives by boat accompanied by a host of Zwarte Pieten. Needless to say that these events are heavily sponsored by toyshops and other local traders.

Grown-ups sometimes celebrate Sinterklaas as well, but in a different way from the children: adults make rhymes for each other in which the other person is the subject, if not to say: the victim. Often less favourable habits of the victim are dealt with in a humorous way.

Since the old bishop only brings them presents for them who believe in him, the grown ups buy presents for each other, which are usually packed in home-made contraptions, frequently made of cardboard, which they call a "surprise" (pronounced in ze French vay).

A few weblogs about Sinterklaas:

28DEC03, 31DEC03, 01FEB05, 08JAN06, 09DEC07

  main menu

  Drawing lots for Sinterklaas