Sinterklaas is in town
“Sinterklaas kapoentje, gooi wat in mijn schoentje, gooi wat in mijn laarsje. Dank u, Sinterklaasje."
On December 5th, The Netherlands is celebrating the famous holiday Sinterklaas, also known as Pakjesavond. But what do we exactly do on this evening and maybe you don’t know it, but the festivities already start around half November. Let me tell you more.
A bit of history
Sinterklaas is a legendary figure based on historical figure Saint Nicholas (270-343), who was a Greek bishop of Myra in present-day Turkey. He is depicted as an old man, with a full white beard, long red cape and a bishop’s alb. Sinterklaas as we know him, lives in Spain and has assistants, we call them roetveegpieten nowadays and we best keep it this way. I’m not going to discuss his previous name, because I feel like if you’re living in The Netherlands, you’ve probably heard about the discussion already.
Arrival of Sinterklaas
The first Sunday after November 11th, every child in The Netherlands will turn on their TV to watch the arrival of Sinterklaas, or as we call it De intocht van Sinterklaas. He arrives from Spain on a boat, each year in a different city, with his horse Amerigo and his roetveegpieten. They carry gifts and candy with them and there’s always children with parents waiting for Sinterklaas at the harbor. This officially marks the beginning of these festivities. Around this time, you will also find pepernoten and kruidnoten popping up in the grocery stores. These are delicious biscuits, both made with the herb speculaas but they look and taste a bit different:
Pepernoten (soft and look more rectangular)
Kruidnoten (they are harder and rounder)
Personally, I love kruidnoten more and love baking them myself. In the shops you can find kruidnoten covered in dark, milk and white chocolate as well. Delicious!
Anyhow, after the intocht, children can put their shoe next to the chimney or in the hallway before they go to bed, together with a drawing or carrots for Sinterklaas’ horse. The next morning, when they wake up, they will find a present in their shoe. Usually, children repeat this at their grandparents’ house, or at their aunts’ and uncles’.
On the website https://sinterklaasjournaal.ntr.nl you can follow what Sinterklaas is up to. Maybe needless to say, but this is of course fictitious. It’s made for children so they can watch it and really be in the spirits of this holiday. Also good for learning some vocab if you’re learning Dutch because it’s not too difficult.
Pakjesavond is celebrated with the whole family. They sing Sinterklaas songs, dance and play games. Then all of a sudden, someone bangs on the door, it’s Sinterklaas, bringing a huge bag of presents and candy. He’s usually together with some roetveegpieten. The children get to sit with Sinterklaas and he will ask them if they’ve been good this year. He carries this huge book with him, where he says all the good children are in, so that he knows who he can give presents to. Usually it’s someone in the family who will play Sinterklaas, and the parents give him the presents beforehand, so the children get exactly what they wished for.
It’s become more of a children’s holiday than anything else nowadays. It used to be to celebrate Saint Nicholas day, but traditions change constantly, we add some things and we leave other things out.
So this is Sinterklaas in a nutshell, I hope this made this holiday a bit clearer. I will also write a blog this month about the difference between Sinterklaas en de Kerstman, Santa Claus, who’s the character when we celebrate Christmas. So stay tuned!