Sinterklaas – A lesson in Dutch traditions
Time for a lesson in Dutch tradition. Let us talk about Sinterklaas.
December is just around the corner and for the Dutch that is quite a busy month. Of course there is Christmas at the end – that we stretch a little by adding a 2nd Christmas day (official) and just for the hell of it we add a 3rd Christmas day (unofficial).
But before all of this takes place, we all look forward to December 5th. That is when we celebrate “Sinterklaas Avond”(Sinterklaas evening). Children are made to believe that an old man sails to The Netherlands in his “Pakjes boot” (boat full of gifts), and when they were nice for a year, they will get presents for good behavior. If they were naughty, Sinterklaas will take them back to Spain when he leaves again the week after December 5th. As a kid, that was so scary, but I must say, it sounds quite appealing to me now.
Arrival Sinterklaas in Arnhem
On Saturday, November 12, 2022, Sinterklaas will return to Arnhem! The quayside program starts at 3:30 PM, where Sinterklaas arrives by boat at 4:15 PM with his entourage. At 4:45 pm he leaves on horseback into the center to take a beautiful route through the city center of Arnhem.
For the route Sinterklaas takes to greet all the childeren in Arnhem click here.
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Sinterklaas – A Heated Discussion
Sinterklaas won’t be all by himself. He brings a ton of ‘Zwarte Pieten’ (Black Peters) to help him. This is because he is quite an old man, and he needs help wrapping all the gifts, writing rhymes to go along with the presents, keeping an eye out on all the children, keeping track on who was naughty and who was nice. These Zwarte Pieten are all very happy to help Sinterklaas, but in recent years there is a heated discussion going on (it starts every year around September -if not sooner) among adults whether these Zwarte Pieten are actually slaves or not. Should we not paint these people black, but color them in every color of the rainbow, or should we stick to tradition and keep them black? There seems to be two camps of passionate people with strong believes about the subject but in recent years there has been a shift.
No more Blackface
Now, it is not accepted anymore to color the faces of the Zwarte Pieten completely black (blackface) but give the Pieten smeers of black in the face. To bring the gifst to the childern they do have to slide through the chimney so it is no surprise they will look a little scruffy. There are even sightings of ‘Rainbow Peters’ and they come in littery every color of the rainbow. As far as the opinion of the children goes: they really don’t care what these ‘Pieten’ look like as long as they get their gifts.
Sleepless Nights for Sinterklaas
From this point on, when Sinterklaas takes his 1st step on Dutch soil again, there will be no sleeping for the kids until December 5th. The thought of him coming to your home will keep you awake. Chances increase for a gift when you put your shoe in front of the heater, chimney, fire place or cat door, along with a nice drawing you made him, some pepernoten and a carrot for his horse Americo. (Did I mention he has a horse? He rides it while goes from rooftop to rooftop, seriously! I’m not making this up people!)
When you have been nice, and you are lucky enough he came to your house, you’ll get a small present and maybe a chocolate letter (Or, when I was young, we would get chocolate cigarettes -again, not making this up…) in the days leading up to December 5th. But the real anxiety comes when December 5th is near. On this day, right before you have to go to bed, and are sad Sinterklaas forgot all about you, a big stash of gifts appear in the shower or livingroom or toilet or closet, or on the doorstep, just minutes after you left any participatory place. Or in the shed where your mum made you check if you locked your bike. This is until you reach 6 or 7 years old, that is when your parents, a class mate or sibling tells you that Sinterklaas is not real, and you get your 1st sense of that life can be cruel.
Sinterklaas for Grown ups
When you and your family and friends are adults but still want to celebrate this joyfull event, there is still an option to join in the fun. You and your family will draw names and buy presents for the one that is on your ticket. This is the grownup style of celebrating Sinterklaas. To just wrap them is a little dull, so what most people do is make a “surprise”. You make something outof a box, or paper marche and hide the gifts in there. Policy is that this goes along with a rhime. A very creative process all together!
You can even book a Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet to come to your house and surprise the guests. Me and my friends did this one year and it was so much fun! (As you can see, this was still when Zwarte Pieten with a black face was ‘accepted’, it now would be different.)