When you are a foreigner, living in The Netherlands, there are many things that you should learn about this country, its culture and traditions. It raised great painters, it produces tasty cheese and it is well known for a liberal lifestyle.
But what you should really know is: how to prepare youreslf for the arrival of Sinterklaas.
Let’s start with some facts.
Who actually is Sinterklaas? As history states, he was a bishop, originally named Saint Nicholas( Sint Nicolaas). According to the Dutch tradition, every year he and his helpers travel all the way from Spain (where he lives) to The Netherlands on a steam boat, to bring gifts to the children. There is a lot of controversy around the characters of the helpers. They are called ”Zwarte Pieten” (Black Petes), they are always dressed in colorful outfits that remind dresses of 17th century pages. As an addition to that, their bodies are painted black and usually they have black curly hair. There is a strong opinion that it’s racist, however Dutch people came up with an answer to that. They say, that the helpers are black simply because they have to come to the children through a chimney and that is why they are black, from the dirt. One of the other sources states that Saint Nicholas, the bishop, bought the freedom of an Ethiopian slave called ”Piter”, and the boy was so grateful that he decided to stay with Sinterklaas.
Whatever it really is, all we know is that Saint Nicholas and his helpers come to the Netherlands in mid- November and from that moment on, the craziness begins.
Every evening children can prepare their shoe, so that in the morning they might find it filled with a treat (usually chocolate letters or mentioned above cookies). Supermarkets are filled with all kinds of chololate-almond-gingerbread treats for the smaller ones.
On the national television, there is a special TV programme called the ”Sinterklaas journaal” which shows the events of the gifts that Sinterklaas is bringing.
Each year Amsterdam hosts the arrival of Sinterklaas on the canals. This year it will take place on the 17th of November. Street are going to be full of the enthousiats of this even, who come to see the Sinterklaas himself and to collect free pepernoten which will be given out to the crowd by Zwarte Pieten.
Afterall, on the evening of 5th of December, all the children who behaved themselves during the whole year, can expect a gift from the Sinterklaas. It is a ritual that developed a lot, and these days also adults prepare some small presents for each other. That evening is called by the Dutch ”Pakjesavond” and usually is a very nice experience. It is particular but as a foreigner it is impossible not to admit, that hot chocolate, almond cake, thoughtful gift and a warm companion is something that can put a smile on your face.
If you are from the outside and you have never heard of this tradition before, you can get pretty much surprised walking down the street on the arrival of Sinterklaas, seeing something that once some tourist in Amsterdam called ”black clownes” who give out gingerbread cookies for free. After them, comes and old grey man, in bishop’s clothes who greets the children and listens to their wishes.This might be one of the strangest traditions that you get to know, however it has been celebrated this way for years in The Netherlands, and as long as it brings happiness and joy- we should find our way to enjoy it.