Sinterklaas is comin’ to town!

Every year Sinterklaas comes to the Netherlands and kicks off a period full of festivities and presents. Also this year Sinterklaas and his Pieten will arrive in Utrecht with his boat filled with presents. To be exact, on this Sunday November 13th, Sinterklaas will set foot in Utrecht. For internationals this feast can be quite confusing, because who is this man who looks like Santa Claus? And what do the Dutchies celebrate? Let the JoCo throw some light on this Dutch tradition!

Who is Sinterklaas?

Sinterklaas, or Sint Nicolaas, is a mythical figure with legendary, historical and folkloric origins based on Saint Nicholas. And although he looks a little bit like Santa Claus with his long white beard and red cloths, he’s a very Dutch character loved by both children and adults. Sinterklaas is an elderly and stately man with white hair and a long, full beard. Traditionally he wears a long red cape over a white bishop’s alb, a red mitre and holds a golden crosier. Mounted on his white horse, called Amerigo, he majestically waves to enthusiastic children


Who is (Zwarte) Piet?

Sinterklaas is assisted by his loyal (Zwarte) Pieten, a group of playful people dressed in a colourful 17th-century page outfits who love goofing around.  They carry presents, toss candy around and climb on roofs to throw presents down the chimney.  The Pieten were traditionally portrayed by Dutch people that painted their faces black, wore red lipstick and wigs of curly dark hair. The last few years there has been a lot of discussion about the appearance of Piet, since many people saw the tradition of white people painting themselves black as racist. Therefore the traditional appearance of Piet has started to change since a couple of years. Now you can expect to see Pieten with faces in all colours from the rainbow. Yellow, blue, red or green, children will love Piet no matter how he looks!


What happens after Sinterklaas arrives?

In the weeks between Sinterklaas’ arrival and the 5th of December, lots of things happen. Sinterklaas and the Pieten visit schools and shopping centres to talk to the children. Children who’ve been good last year get presents and candy and the naughty children are, according to the legend, taken back to Spain. Besides that children put their shoes several nights in front of the fireplace chimney. The shoes are filled with carrots and hay for Amerigo, Sinterklaas’ horse, and children sing Sinterklaas songs. The next morning their shoes will be filled with a small present or a typical Sinterklaas treat. If you’re not a child anymore you definitely shouldn’t deny yourself those treats. Buy yourself a chocolate letter, a bag of pepernoten, speculaas or some tasty marzipan figures.


What happens on December the 5th?

The evening of December the 5th is the evening all children have been waiting for. On Sinterklaas Eve, or in Dutch also called Gifts Evening, the main presents will arrive. Very often the presents just appear in front of the house, announced by a knock on the door. Children will think it’s a Piet who’s knocked, but often it’s a knock from a helpful neighbour. 😉 Still you can perfectly celebrate Sinterklaas Eve if you’re no longer a ‘believer’. Just collect your family and friends, write each other humorous poems or play Secret Santa.


How does Utrecht celebrate Sinterklaas in 2016?

Every year Sinterklaas and the Pieten arrive in Utrecht with a colourful parade on the canals. Several boats will be filled by Sinterklaas and the Pieten, music and candy.

Sunday November 13th the Sinterklaas parade will start at Ledig Erf at 12 o’clock. Sinterklaas and the Pieten sail over the Oudegracht, cross the town hall and end at the Weerdsluis. At 1 o’clock they will leave the boats for a parade through town, where Sinterklaas will ride his horse. At 2:45 Sinterklaas will arrive at the Domplein where the parade will end.

So, no merry Christmas to you yet but happy Sinterklaas to all of you!

For more information about the parade take a look at

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