Thursday, November 24, 2011

Sinter Klaas, a whole new Santa!

Yes, that's right--Santa before Thanksgiving! Well, obviously the Dutch don't celebrate Thanksgiving, but we still are. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Every time Elliot and I have been in Holland, we've just missed the Sinter Klaas season. So this year, we're all over it and I can't wait to tell you about all the fun/wacky/elaborate Dutch traditions I've recently learned about this 'holiday.'

Waiting for Sint's arrival in Rotterdam!

1. Sint is not from the North Pole
Sinter Klaas, or Sint for short, is originally from Turkey, but he's been living in Spain for the past 800 or so years with all his helpers, who are called Zwarte Piets (Black Peets). The Piets help him get down every chimney by cleaning them. Every year he comes to Holland--he only gives presents to Dutch children--and he arrives by train or boat, or sometimes on his white horse (I'm not so clear about that) about two or three weeks before his birthday, December 5.

Zwarte Piets, Sint's helpers and chimney sweepers, painted black from soot

2. Sint's arrival in Holland, and only Holland
His arrival in the country is alway a HUGE deal and thousands of people come to see his arrival in the country.

First signs of Sint's fleet!

3. The media is in on it.
Sint's arrival is preceded by massive media speculation that he actually might not make it to Holland. This year, TV and newspaper stories built up the arrival by claiming that Sint's Zwarte Piets (and all the gifts!) didn't make the boat. The day after that story ran, media confirmed that the Zwarte Piets made it on the next boat to Holland. Of course this just totally freaks out all the kids and has them biting their nails for hours. Naturally, when Sint made it to his first stop in Holland, Dordrecht, the Zwarte Piets were on the following boat--building up the moment.  Recent story headlines include: "Sint won't need Rotob's help with slippery roofs this year" and "Sint: 'I was nervous this year.'"

"Sint is getting good deals for the kids this year"

He finally arrives in Rotterdam!

3. Pick me, Sint!!
Sint makes an appearance in every Dutch cities, and the larger cities have more spectacular events. All the children wear Zwarte Piets costumes because they all want Sint to chose them to attend Pietschool--yes, a school for Zwarte Piets! So cute.

Zwarte Piets in-waiting!

3. Shoes and carrots
Upon Sint's arrival in Holland, every evening children put a shoe near the fireplace with a carrot (for Sint's white horse) and maybe a short poem advocating for a nice gift this year. If the children are lucky (and have been good) they might get a small chocolate or present in their shoe once or twice a week before December 5. And of course there's a cute song that goes with the receiving a gift from Sint.

4. The neighbors are in on it
I also heard from a few parents of small children that every year their neighborhood elects a Sint who collects stories from parents about what their kids have been doing 'wrong.' Sint then goes door-to-door in the evenings and, knowing all about these kids, tells them the things they need to work on before December 5 (the big present day).

5. Finally!
December 5th is the culminating day for Sint and the children. Over the past few weeks, family members usually write satirical, or silly poems for each other and elaborately wrap each other's gifts (by Secret Santa fashion) into works of art that must represent the person the gift is for. For families with small children, parents may get a neighbor to doorbell ditch a sack of gifts at the front door--possibly even leaving behind a white glove or other remnant of his presence.

I think I've covered just about everything. I told you this was elaborate!! And oh, so much fun. Anél and I (and her hubby) went to the Erasmus Bridge to see Sint's arrival to Rotterdam--by boat on the Maas River of course! It couldn't have been a more gorgeous day for Sint as well.

What a production!


  1. Very nice, meredith! Dutch culture, all the way. A little bit under pressure because Santa ("de kerstman") is also upcoming in Holland.
    By the way: you have it right. Sinterklaas comes by steamboot from out of Spain and travels here in Holland on a white horse called Americo ;-)

  2. The horse is named Americo? That's awesome!


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