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The arrival of Sinterklaas

Updated: Mar 21, 2023

The arrival of Sinterklaar per boat in the Netherlands

Sinterklaas is a big holiday in The Netherlands, especially for children! Sinterklaas is based on the historical figure of Saint Nicholas the patron saint of children and he is a folklore legend. Other names the Dutch also call Sinterklaas are De Goede Sint and De Goedheiligman.

The arrival of Sinterklaas is a big deal in the Netherlands and it takes place at a different port each year. Sinterklaas always arrives on a Saturday at least three weeks before December 5 so the parents still have lots of time to spend money on presents. This year he landed on the 13th Of November (yesterday) in Amsterdam.

Sinterklaas arrives in November by boat from Spain (originally Turkey) with his helpers, known as roetveegpieten ("soot-smudge Petes") or schoorsteenpieten ("chimney Petes"). The Pietens wear colourful clothes that are based on 16th-century noble attire, with a ruff (lace collar) and a feathered cap. They are typically depicted carrying a bag that contains candy for the children, which they toss around.

In Amsterdam, Sinterklaas travels up the Amstel River and through the canals to the Maritime Museum. There he gets on his horse and everyone parades through town. The horse of Sinterklaas named Amerigo was pensioned in 2019 and has been replaced with a new horse called Ozosnel (oh so fast).

When he arrives he is welcomed by children cheering and singing traditional Sinterklaas songs. He carries a big, red book that records whether each child has been good or naughty in the past year.

Sinterklaas visits schools, hospitals, and shopping centers. Traditionally, naughty children risked being caught by the Pieten, who carries a jute bag and willow cane for that purpose. In the olden days it was believed that naughty children will be put in the bag and taken back to Spain with the Pieten

In the days leading up to the 5th of December (Sinterklaasavond) the children will leave a single shoe next to the fireplace chimney or fireplace (or in modern times close to the heating radiator, or a door) before they go to bed. They leave the shoe with a carrot or hay and a bowl of water nearby "for Sinterklaas' horse", and the children sing a Sinterklaas song. The next day they find some candy or a small present in their shoes. The popular candy are; small, round, gingerbread-like cookies, either kruidnoten or pepernoten. In the olden days a disobedient child would find a potato or coal in his/her shoe (how strange!).

This is an exceptional time for the Dutch to celebrate the arrival of Sinterklaas and then the days leading to the 5th of December the Sinterklaasavond, usually celebrated with family and friends.

This time of the year is a time for reflection, family, and love, I hope you enjoy your family and the festive season!

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