It’s the most magical time of the year! December is upon us and everyone is getting in to the festive spirit.
My traditional Christmas is a combination of two cultures. I am half English, half Dutch and I’ve spent half of my life living in both countries. Being fifty-fifty means I celebrate traditions from both countries. For example, while the Spanish have The Three Kings, the English are visited by the infamous Father Christmas. Meanwhile, the Dutch receive presents from Sinterklaas (Saint Nicolas).
Sinterklaas is an old, friendly man with a white beard, a tall hat and a long stick. He rides a white horse and is accompanied by his helpers, Zwarte Pieten (Black Pete’s). They come to Holland on a steamboat from Spain and bring sacks full of presents.
In England, Father Christmas visits children’s’ houses on the 24th of December, Christmas Eve. However, in Holland, Sinterklaas is celebrated on the 5th of December. He normally arrives at the end of November, a few weeks beforehand. Dutch children warmly welcome Sinterklaas while Zwarte Pieten hand out sweets and pepernoten (small, spicy biscuits).
Instead of receiving presents in a stocking (a big sock) like in England, the Dutch children get their shoes filled with goodies. In the weeks before the 5th of December, it is tradition to put out your shoe and sing songs for Sinterklaas, asking him to give you a treat. You also leave a carrot for his white horse. The next morning, if you’ve been well behaved, you will find a chocolate gift in your shoe! For example, if you’re lucky, Sint gives you a chocolate letter, the first letter of your name.
Another tradition at Sinterklaas is the surprise. Families and friends pick a name out of a hat and have to buy a gift for this person. However, this is no ordinary present. Everyone must wrap the gift up and disguise it as something. For example, if someone likes playing football, the present could be hidden inside an old football! You also have to write a personal poem so the others can guess who the surprise is for. On the 5th of December, everyone gets together for an evening of poems and present opening! It’s great fun.
So there you have it! Sinterklaas is a fantastic Christmas tradition which I love celebrating wherever I am in the world. Being half English, half Dutch I am lucky enough to be visited by both Father Christmas AND Sinterklaas!
Now that I live in Spain, let’s see if I can be third time lucky and receive a present from the Three Kings! But that’s probably pushing my luck…
Time for a Sinterklaas Quiz!
When does Sinterklaas arrive in Holland?
- The 24th of December
- At the end of November
- The 5th of December
Where does Sinterklaas leave his presents?
- In your shoe
- In big sacks
- In a stocking
When Sinterklaas arrives, Zwarte Pieten hand out:
- Chocolate letters
You only receive a present from Sinterklaas if:
- If you’ve been badly behaved
- If you’ve been well behaved
- If you’ve been well behaved and you sing a song when you put out your shoe
At Sinterklaas, it’s a tradition to:
- Wrap up presents in nice wrapping paper
- Disguise presents as a something special
- Disguise presents and write poems.