Dutch traditions: Sinterklaas

Maybe you’ve already been wondering why all the strange candy such as ‘chocolate letters’ and ‘kruidnoten’ are sold in the stores since a few weeks. Well, that’s all part of the preparation for the typical Dutch tradition on December 5th called Sinterklaas. Sinterklaas and his so called ‘Zwarte Pieten’ will arrive Sunday November 16th. The video above gives you a little impression of the arrival of Sinterklaas in Utrecht last year.

The program Sunday November 16th
NOTE: this is not an ESN activity, we don’t organize anything that day. We just provide this information so you can go by yourself to check out the parade etc. Information about the ESN Utrecht celebration of Sinterklaas on December 4th will follow later through the ESN Utrecht Facebook.

Arrival by boat through Oude Gracht
From 12.00 Sint’s boat leaves at Ledig Erf
From 12.30 Sint’s boat passes the city hall
From 13.15 Sint’s boat arrives at Weerdsluis

12.30 Performance of the pop band The Jambassadors
12.45 Presentation by Klaas Drupsteen and an act
13.00 Welcome of Utrecht’s mayor Van Zanen
13.15 Arrival of Sint’s boat
13.45 End of the Weerdsluis program

12.00 Music, games for children, Sinterklaas hands out candy and gifts
14.30 The parade passes by
16.00 End of Stadhuisplein program

Parade: there will be a parade through the city center with Sinterklaas and Pieten
14.00 Start of the parade at Weerdsluis
14.45 Arrival of the parade at Domplein (Dom square)

Domplein (Dom Square)
13.00 Arrival of the parade
14.30 Program on stage by Klaas Drupsteen
15.30 End of the Domplein program

2014-11-12 Sinterklaas afbeelding

Explanation Sinterklaas Tradition
Sinterklaas is a typical Dutch tradition that takes place on December 5th but with a Dutch twist to it. Sinterklaas (also called ‘Sint’) is an old man, who has been around for a very long time, like Santa Claus. And like Santa he likes to hand out presents. His name and the tradition of handing out presents is derived from Saint Nicholas. The old fashioned name of Sinterklaas is therefore Sint Nicolaas, but nowadays we call him Sinterklaas or Sint. Sinterklaas lives in Spain (while Saint Nicholas lived in Turkey) and once a year he comes to the Netherlands with his steamboat to celebrate his birthday. He arrives at the end of November together with his helpers and his white horse called Amerigo. The helpers are called Black Petes (in Dutch: Zwarte Pieten). They are black because they are always crawling through the chimneys of every house to deliver the presents. (Sinterklaas and the Black Petes are shown on the picture on the bottom of this page.)

As soon as Sinterklaas arrives in the Netherlands, kids all over the country get excited. Every week they can put one of their shoes in front of the fireplace, along with a carrot for the Amerigo and their wish list. After that, the kids sing one of the many Sinterklaas songs while sitting around the fireplace, hoping Sinterklaas will hear them. Since not many houses these days have a fireplace some kids put their shoe in front of the back door for example. During the night, Sinterklaas, Amerigo and the Petes walk on the roofs. The Petes jump down the chimneys to pick up the goods of the shoes and give a small present in return. One of the most common presents in the shoes is a ‘chocolate letters’.

Then on December 5th it is the birthday of Sinterklaas. At least, that is what the children have been told. The actual reason behind the celebration on the 5th is that this is the day Saint Nicholas died in the year 343. During the evening of December 5th presents at every house. 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. The poems mostly have a personal touch and give a hint of what the present will be. The story goes that the kids only get presents when they have been nice all year. If they were not, Sint would take them with him to Spain as a punishment. Sinterklaas has a big red book called ‘the book of Sinterklaas’ in which he makes notes about the kids. Which toys do they like? What are their hobbies? Have they been nice this year?

When the kids get older and do no longer believe in the existence of Sinterklaas, some people start celebrating Sinterklaas in another way. They then buy presents for each other and write poems themselves. For your one and only ‘secret Santa’ you will have to make a handiwork in addition to the gift and the poem. This is called a ‘surprise’ (which is pronounced in a different way than the English word ‘surprise’). It does not have to be something they will use or keep. For example, for a cat lover you can make a handiwork in the shape of a cat. It is custom to hide the gift inside the ‘surprise’.

This holiday can be considered as a family holiday tradition. It is cold and dark outside during December, so everyone gathers around the fireplace 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.

There are some variations of this tradition in other countries, for example Belgium and Czech Republic.

By Femke

Sinterklaas (3)


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