Monday, November 19, 2012

Sinterklaas is coming to town

Last Saturday the Dutch counterpart of Santa Claus arrived to The Netherlands in his steam boat. Sinterklaas hasn't given any present to the children yet but he's sure started to take note of their wishes and his little helpers, the Zwarte Pieten, are very busy preparing everything to fulfill as many wishes as possible of Dutch (and Belgian) children. So, last Saturday most children went to the streets to welcome Sinterklaas and follow him during the street parade collecting sweets from the Zwarte Pieten. Children also dress up like Sinterklaas or the Zwarte Piet. In fact, since late september some stores already stocked on Sint's capes and Zwarte Piet's make up set!

You might be wondering if Sinterklaas is exactly the same as Santa Claus or Father Christmas. Well, I guess the answer is yes and no. Sinterklaas is one of the many sources of inspiration of the modern Santa Claus but Sinterklaas tradition goes back to the Middle Ages. The original celebration honoured Saint Nicholas, a Greek bishop who lived in the 3rd century whose relics were brought to Naples, which was part of the Spanish Kingdom during the Middle Ages. Saint Nicholas was named patron saint of school children and that's how the tradition of a Saint rewarding good children was born. According to the tradition, Sinterklaas comes every year from Spain in a steam boat. He rides a white horse and is helped by many tiny assistants with black faces and bright clothes, who are called Zwarte Pieten (Black Petes). Sinterklaas' clothes still remind of those of a bishop. He has a long, curly. white beard and wears a red cape over a white tunic and a red mitre ornated with a gold cross.

Sinterklaas is one of the most popular celebrations in The Netherlands. Families get together and usually someone dresses up as Sinterklaas to trick children into believing. Children will receive their gifts on 5th December (6th December in Belgium) and the days before they get small treats in their shoes: chocolate letters, marzipans, speculaas cookies, mandarines, ... On 5th December family and friends exchange presents and many people write poems telling funny things that happened during the last year. I really like the Sinterklaas celebration and how families enjoy it together. In Spain, the Three Wise Kings also give presents to children on 6th January and we also celebrate their arrival with a parade. However, they just arrive the day before visiting each home at night and children don't dress up to welcome them.

Do you also exchange Xmas gifts? Who brings presents to children in your countries?


  1. oh wow! the history behind sinterklaas is amazing. there are many similarities and differences between him and santa claus (white horse vs sleigh; zwarte pieten vs elves; shoes vs stockings) this was really interesting to read. i love the family aspect! christmas for me has always been about children and God. the commercialization of it now includes EVERYbody. hahaha i don't like the greediness of the holiday. i like that this keeps everything in perspective. wonderful post!

    1. I totally agree with you!
      In Spain there has also been a great commercialization of Christmas and sometimes all that matters is shopping as many presents as possible and the more Christmas decorations the better.
      I think it's a lot nicer to stick to the basics and have a meaningful and lovely celebration :)

  2. The Netherlands looks so beautiful and I love the background on Santa. My family definitely exchanges gifts and it's so fun!


    1. I'm glad you like it Dale!
      We usually exchange gifts on 6th January for the celebration of the Three Wise Men and it's also nice. And I love the traditional sweets we eat for that date!

  3. Lo que mas me gusta de tu blog es que siempre me voy sabiendo algo nuevo Irene, me ha encantado el post y la tradición de la cabalgata, pensaba q solo era aqui con los reyes magos.
    Ya me contarás la receta de las galletas de Jamie Olivier, tengo unos moldes navideños nuevos súper chulos para las galletas de esta año.

    1. Por cierto, cuando estabas aprendiendo Ingles nunca saltaste con los Magic Kings? Yo antes de saberlo, le explique así a mi amiga irlandesa y ne quede mas ancha que larga, jajaja

    2. jejejej sí!!! Cada vez que escribía la típica redacción en el cole en clase de inglés los Three Magic Kings aparecían por ahí :p

      Intentaré encontrar la receta y te la mando, quizás tengas que esperar a que llegue a Tenerife pero no importa, las galletas están igual de buenas todo el año :)


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