3 things you must know about Sinterklaas

1. The Sinterklaas celebration, in short
Sinterklaas is a children’s celebration celebrated on December 5 in the Netherlands. Sinterklaas and his Pieten give presents to children.

From November 7, the fun starts with the Sinterklaasjournaal on TV, and usually after Sinterklaas arrives in the Netherlands per boat on November 12. Then the preparations at schools also begin.

The modern form of the Dutch St. Nicholas celebration probably stems from the picture book Sint Nikolaas en zijn knecht (1850) by the teacher Jan Schenkman. The feast has much older origins. If you want to learn more about the history of St. Nicholas, read on here at the St. Nicholas Center.

2. The traditions briefly explained

 The entry of Sinterklaas: de intocht
Sinterklaas arrives in a different port in the Netherlands every year. The national entry of Sinterklaas this year will be on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022, and it will be in Hellevoetsluis. This entry can be followed live on TV (NPO 3 door de NTR) or via the Internet on Sinterklaasjournaal.nl.

 Shoe setting: schoen zetten
From the arrival of Sinterklaas in the Netherlands, children are allowed to set up their shoes. Originally before the chimney. Traditionally they put a letter with their wishes to Sinterklaas in their shoe and put down some hay and a carrot for the horse and a bowl of water.

Sinterklaas and his Pieten (oh, sorry, you as parents) fill the shoes with something nice and/or a small gift. Parents usually decide how often the children can set their shoes during this festive time.

 Gift Night: Pakjesavond
December 5 is Sinterklaas’ birthday and many families in the Netherlands celebrate Pakjesavond. This is the evening when Sinterklaas brings a bag of gifts for the family. Today it is not only for children anymore, but adults also give gifts to each other.

Some families only do presents that are unwrapped during that evening, others have presents with poems, and yet others prepare surprises for each other (mostly when the children are older).

A surprise is a St. Nicholas gift, often wrapped in an original and fun, surprising way. Surprises are usually exchanged between youngsters and adults. They often draw lots among themselves about a month before December 5. Each person is assigned the person listed on the draw. If you have no clue, you have several great websites with ideas.

Sinterklaas songs
Sinterklaas songs are sung throughout the entire Sinterklaas period. Especially at the arrival and entry of Sinterklaas, at the putting of the shoe, and at the beginning of pack night. The songs are taught by parents to children and also at school. Follow this link and sing along.

There is not a St. Nicholas celebration without candy! Famous are kruidnootjes, pepernoten, chocolate coins, chocolate letters, and speculaas. When the Pieten pass by on the street or in the classroom, they throw candy around from their burlap sack.

Petes: Pieten
Sinterklaas has been accompanied by many Pieten since the modern version of this celebration, often with their own task for each, led by a Head Pete. Pieten behave mostly like acrobats and pranksters who often pull pranks.

In the Netherlands, there is debate surrounding Black Pete and the fact that the Pieten are dark-skinned. Meanwhile, we now know Pieten with all the rainbow colors on tv and in our schools.

3. Not to be missed if you want to celebrate Sinterklaas with your children
Among the best-known Dutch Sinterklaas programs since the late 20th century is the Sinterklaasjournaal and De Club van Sinterklaas.  It is also fun to listen to Sinterklaas radio from FM radio with your children.

 Dutch language and Sinterklaas: Many great tips can be found in this article (in Dutch), from videos, short reading texts, and online books to several great tips to celebrate December 5 with your children: Hoe Sinterklaas te vieren in het buitenland?How do you celebrate Sinterklaas abroad?

Written by Wendy van Dalen