Sinterklaasvond is an important traditional celebration in the Netherlands and we’ll be serving some traditional Pepernoten with coffee at Dutchies on the 5th of December.
Sinterklaas is a traditional (and very important) figure in Dutch culture based on Saint Nicholas. He is elderly, stately and serious with a ling full beard. He wears a red cape, a white bishop’s alb and a red mitre. He also has a ruby ring and a long golden shepherd’s staff with a fancy top. He is one of the sources of Santa Claus.
Most importantly he carries a big book that tells whether each child has been naughty or nice in the last year.
Sinterklaas is accompanied by Zwarte Piet his companion who has a black face, black curly hair and is dressed like a 17th Century page. Traditionally Zwarte Piet was said to be a moor from Spain but as concerns over racism have arisen some have said he is black from climbing through the chimneys to deliver gifts.
This issue has become increasingly controversial but tradition seems to prevail and in a recent survey most Dutch people said they did not associate Zwarte Piet with slavery or racism and were opposed to changing his appearance.
Sinterklaas arrives in the Netherlands each year in mid-November by steamboat from Spain. He then parades through the streets on his white horse where children welcome him and Zwarte Piet with cheering and singing traditional Sinterklaas songs. Zwarte Piet (there are often several of them – Zwarte Pieten) throw sweets and cookies, usually kruidnoten or pepernoten, into the crowds.
The entire event if televised in the Netherlands and in Belgium. All towns with a dock celebrate the arrival of Sinterklaas and inland he arrives by train, cart or even a fire engine.
Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet carry a bag which contains the treats they toss to the children and some old Sinterklaas songs refer to naughty children being put in the bag and taken back to Spain.
In between his arrival and the 5th of December, Sinterklaas visits schools, hospitals and shopping centres. The 5th of December is Saint Nicholas’ Eve and is the main day for giving gifts. The evening is called Sinterklaasavond or Pakjesavond (“gifts evening”, or literally “packages evening”).
Somehow the presents arrive at a family’s house. Either a note is found explaining where to find them or a neighbour will dress up as Zwarte Piet and deliver them to the door. They are then placed in the living room much like on Christmas Day here in South Africa and the present opening begins. On the 6th of December, Sinterklaas leaves and the festivities end.