Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sinterklaas has arrived

Sinterklaas, the supposedly Spanish bishop Saint Nicholas dearly loved by every Dutch child, has arrived in the port of Schiedam earlier today, with his steamboat full of gifts for all wellbehaved children. He is of course accompanied by his trusted helpers, the Zwarte Pieten! In the coming weeks, Sinterklaas (often called 'Sint') and his helpers will spread presents and candy throughout The Netherlands. Sint rides his white horse over the roofs and houses, while his helpers deliver the good stuff: kids put their shoes by the chimney, and Zwarte Piet is supposed to climb down and put candy or small presents in them. Often kids will leave something nice for Sinterklaas' horse in return: a bit of water and a carrot or a sugar lump for instance.

On the evening of December 5th, Sinterklaas Evening is celebrated, with giving larger presents (both to kids and grownups), seasonal candy (chocolate letters!) and such. Often the extended family is involved, and a typical feature of this evening is, that the grownups write silly poems to go with the gifts. First you read the poem, in which someone usually sets you straight, teases you or mildy vents some frustrations; only after that you are allowed to open the present. Soon after December 5th, Sint leaves the country only to return mid November next year, when the whole ritual begins anew.

This children's feast is a real national tradition and has been celebrated in The Netherlands for hundreds of years. It (more or less) marks the start of the winter and to a lesser extend the christmas season over here. Our 'Sinterklaas' may also have been a source of inspiration for the American Santa Claus!

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