Mijn Eerste Sinterklaas

(My first Sinterklaas.) So, first things first: who or what is Sinterklaas? 

Sinterklaas is the Dutch version of the traditional figure, Saint Nicholas. Not to be confused with Santa or Father Christmas… he doesn’t come on 24th December or have reindeer or live in the North Pole.

Sinterklaas arrives in the Netherlands on steamboat from Spain in mid-November with his helpers called ‘Zwarte Pieten’ (‘Black Petes’) and for the next couple of weeks there are Sinterklaas related events around the country (mostly involving Zwarte Piets throwing kruidnoten or pepernoten into the crowd – we’ll talk about those in a sec) before he heads back to Spain on his birthday, 6th December, for a well-deserved rest!

5th December is known as Pakjesavond  in the Netherlands. (‘Pakjes’ means packages, but probably a better translation is ‘gifts evening’.) This is the culmination of several weeks of excitement – since his arrival in November – and the night when you eat loads of sweet treats and get presents! Yippee!

Sinterklaas

Sweet treats

Pepernoten  literally ‘pepper nuts’ are small, round-shaped cookie like things made from flour, sugar, anise, cinnamon, and cloves. Not to be confused with kruidnoten literally meaning ‘spice nuts’ which are harder, have a different colour and shape and contain the same ingredients as speculoos.

Other Sinterklaas treats include chocolate letters (chocolate shaped into the first letter of your name), chocolate coins (we get those in England too) and pastry shaped into a letter containing an almond flavour paste (known in the Netherlands as spijs or amandelspijs.)

Traditional Sinterklaas fayre

Traditional Sinterklaas fayre

The period leading up to 5th December…

Traditionally, in the period between Sinterklaas’ arrival and pakjesavond, he rides around roof tops at night, delivering presents on his white horse named Amerigo. (Although most Dutchies call him Schimmel, which is the type of horse.) Young children leave out their shoe for Sinterklaas to put their present(s) in and often a carrot or some hay for his horse. This part gets a bit confusing for me as there doesn’t seem to be an actual date to do this… Sinterklaas can just rock up whenever he feels like it. So you have to have your shoe prepared!

Then, on 5th December, the main presents will arrive “somehow”…

You might get a note saying where they’re hidden, or some people get a friend or neighbour to knock and run (pretending to be a Zwarte Piet) and leave a sack of presents for the kids to find.

How my family celebrates Sinterklaas…

Despite the fact that I’ve been with a Dutch guy for 5 years, this year was my first Sinterklaas!

Since my nephews are all 11+ there was no need to hire neighbours to deliver presents or leave notes… they already know the score, so there was just a pile of presents when we walked in.

We were each given a member of the family to buy a gift for, organised via a Secret Santa like draw. In addition to a real present, we also had to make a ‘surprise’  for that person. The idea of a ‘surprise’  is to package the gift in such a way that it disguises the real gift in a humorous and personalised way. You also have to write a poem, and from what I saw that evening, the main goal is to take the piss out of that person… in a friendly way of course!

I drew my nephew, so that was an easy one! At our wedding in August, my Mum took a real shine to him and after a few glasses of bubbly she was pinching his cheeks and doing the whole overenthusiastic-drunk-Auntie thing. Except that I’m his Auntie! 😉 So I printed out a picture of my Mum, as large as I could, and then framed it and hid the real present (a video game) behind the frame. My husband (aka The Dutchie) wrote a hilarious poem about the whole debacle (as my Dutch isn’t quite good enough to write a whole poem yet!!) and we all had a good laugh about the photo needing to be placed above his bed so that he could see her every day. (Luckily, my Mum has a wicked sense of humour too!)

When it was my turn, I received the following box! But first… I had to read out a whole poem, in Dutch! (Very daunting whilst sat in front of seven Dutchies!!)

IMG_2642

My gift was hidden in a special Bitterballen box, made by my youngest nephew, with my name on one side and a heart on the other with a secret door to get the presents out! Zo lief! (So sweet!) The ‘surprises’ are supposed to be exactly that by the way, but with only eight of us, it was pretty easy to guess who had got each person!

When it was my husband’s turn, he received a large box from our brother-in-law, who produced the most intricate ‘surprise’ of the night: ‘Een oefenbaby!’ (A practice baby!) Complete with fake poo which he had to delve through to search for a clue as to where the real present was hidden! Yuk! (If you’re new to the blog and missed the joke here: I don’t want kids might explain why he was given a fake baby.)

Oefenbaby

I’ll spare you the poo pictures… It was damn funny though!

Oefenbaby2

So, how is Sinterklaas celebrated in your household? Are there any other quirky traditions I’ve missed? 😉

Hayley x

Ps – you can now follow me on Facebook!

[Note: I am aware that there has been much controversy and discussion about ‘Zwarte Pieten’  in recent years, but this is not what my post is about, it’s about the celebration of Sinterklaas. Those wishing to talk about this issue further should join the hundreds of other discussions on the internet about it. Any comments on my blog regarding this topic will be moderated accordingly.]

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23 comments

  1. I have recently discovered your blog, and in the past few days have read everything you’ve written in the past year. For me, as a Dutchie, it’s very funny and interesting to read about my country through the eyes of a foreigner. I’ve never realised some of our habits (i.e., putting up a birthday calendar in the bathroom), might be strange to non-Dutchies.

    Next summer, I will be traveling around the UK (England, Wales and Scotland) with my boyfriend for 5 weeks. Do you have any tips for us? (Brighton is already on our must-see list!)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Wow… impressed that you’ve read the whole blog! Thanks for your lovely comments!

      How exciting! Veel plezier! Yes, Brighton definitely – if you like Japanese food, make sure you go to Moshimo! I would also recommend Bournemouth, it’s another seaside town but different from Brighton. Depending on how much time you have, the Weymouth area is also lovely: especially Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door.

      Scarily, I’ve never been to Scotland or Wales! But if you’re party people then Cardiff is supposedly where the party’s at! 🙂

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  2. I love reading your blog,it brings me laughter and fun…..altough i must say…… the figure Santa Claus is copied from our St.Nicolaas or Sinterklaas…. just say Sinterklaas with a English tongue….it came with the Dutch pioneers who discovered the United States….later The CocaColaCompany adopted the Santerklaus as Santa Claus because of the red clothing wich is a Cocacola colour….they added the friendly fat guy to the figure and changed some other thing to serate it from the Dutch Santerklaus and there you have the Santa Claus of Christmas…… …anyway….. keep writing the funny and fantastic blogs……Happy Holydays!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Actually, Sinterklaas goes to EVERY house EVERY night he’s in the Netherlands (and Belgium) and gets the gifts and carrots from all of the shoes! So he’s quite a busy man. That’s why he needs all the zwarte pieten.

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    1. Every house, every night?? So parents have to buy 2-3 weeks worth of presents for each child?! That seems rather a lot!

      My husband said it varies for each family, so some might do it every night whereas others may only do it once in that period.

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      1. Well, some parents put presents in their children’s shoes every night, but in my experience me and my friends used to recieve exra candy instead of presents in our shoes. I would only get presents on the 5th of December. But some people definitely do that differently!

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  4. I’m also a “bitterballenbruid” (Australian married to a Dutchman) and I remember reading my first sinterklaas gedicht out loud in front of the whole family – I agree it was quite daunting. Luckily it gets easier every year!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It’s funny to see how you see all those things. I am a Dutchy, but live in the USA for one year, and I see all the differences with those two countries. What some families do (at least my family does that) is sing for Sinterklaas. Songs like ‘sinterklaasje bonne bonne bonne’ and ‘zie ginds komt de stoomboot’ also will fill our night with joy and laughter, because not everyone in our family has the talent to sing well!
    Keep posting things, i love your blog! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Wow i really enjoy reading your blog! I never realised myself how strange some things are here in Holland; the birthday calander on the toilet, you can even buy a “toilet kalender”.
    Regarding to Sinterklaas there are as far as i know 2 options:
    -You can “zet je schoentje” every night, sometimes you get a present sometimes “de roe” ( from zwarte piet ) sometimes nothing. So every morning is very exiting
    -You can “zet je schoentje” on a night by choise, than singing dutch sinterklaasliedjes.
    “de luisterpieten” can hear you sing and than they know wich shoe to fill.

    There are all kinds of “pieten”
    -luisterpiet ( is up on the roof, listing if you sing or if you behave like a good boy or girl)
    -hoofdpiet (the one who gives al the instructions)
    -inpak piet( the one who wraps al the giftst)

    And much much more.

    I hope the ” zet vanavond je schoentje maar en zing erbij” situation makes a bit more sense now .. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hey Hayley!

    I really like your blog! I love the fact that you put so much effort into making every single post, adding personal pictures and experiences makes it so easy and fun to read. Love it!
    Also, being an International Business Communication student and thus having to research cultural differences between the UK and the Netherlands on quite a regularly basis, it’s very fun to read about how you experience our culture. I absolutely adore your blog!

    Keep up the good work and I’ll keep following you! 😉

    Justin

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Fun to add: Schimmel also means mold/fungus and is used for fungal infections (schimmelinfectie). So we like to make very bad jokes like saying “There’s Sinterklaas with his schimmel between his legs.” Lousy humour, I know 😛

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  9. Little mistake. You say kruidnoten taste the same as speculoos. That should be speculaas. Speculoos is the cheaper belgian version, without spices (loos = without). Btw most dutch people say pepernoten to kruidnoten. I don’t know why shops try to change that.

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