Sinterklaas 101

Posted December 8, 2013 by Debby in Lifestyle

While I, personally, celebrate Christmas, the Dutch, generally, usually celebrate Sinterklaas! Especially for families with young children, Sinterklaas is the holiday of choice, though they may switch to Christmas when the kids grow up. But anyway, with so many Dutchies in the blogging community, I thought it’d be nice to share something about our holiday with you guys. 🙂

Who is Sinterklaas?

Sinterklaas is our substitute for Santa. He is based on Saint Nicholas, lives in Spain, and comes to the Netherlands on a steam boat. His arrival on the boat in November is shown on TV, and it’s a big event. He rides a white horse, Amerigo, for whom the kids leave carrots and sugar cubes, and he has little helpers… you may have heard of them this year from the United Nations investigation… they are the Black Petes. …Let’s not get into the racism question here.

How do we celebrate it?

We celebrate Sinterklaas on the evening of the 5th of December, and we call it “pakjesavond” — “present night”. Basically, the kids are all in a tizzy about Sinterklaas coming and at a certain point (in some families: after singing Sinterklaas songs), there’s a knock on the door! Sinterklaas is here! They rush to the door, and there’s a bag of presents left, or, the parents get a neighbor to dress up as Sinterklaas, who then enters and hangs out for a while, reading from his big book on whether the kids have been good or not. Then, the usual chaos unfolds. He also, typically, leaves candy and chocolates or presents in the kids’ shoes.

One of many Sinterklaas songs…

A more adult version!

If you’re going to a Sinterklaas party, or celebrating with friends, it’s more common to go the route of “surprises” – our version of Secret Santa. How it works is you get a name of someone to get a present for. You go and buy them something and you have to write a poem for them – usually written from the perspective of Sinterklaas who is wondering what he should get for that person and whether they have been good or bad that year. They get pretty freaking hilarious, although everyone always complains about having to write them.

My experience this year

This year we celebrated Sinterklaas with my department at work. It was pretty hilarious, because our department head is Dutch and very passionate about the holiday, and the rest are mostly internationals who don’t really get our customs. It was really nice though, with the poems being absolutely hilarious. At the very end, when each person had read their poems aloud and opened the gifts, we had to guess who got who, and that was really funny too. Everyone thought that all the books were from me, and the well-written poems were obviously mine because I’m a native speaker and I read a lot. *sigh* One of these days, I will clear up the misconception that a reader is also a writer, though my poem *was* pretty fantastic, if I do say so myself.

The man who drew my name didn’t really know me, but he still did a great job, and I laughed so much at the poem. And so, I thought, I’d share that with you! Enjoy!

Dear Debby,

Since neither Sint nor most Piets did know you a lot
Upon receiving the drawings he was deeply in thought
What to write about Debby – OH MY GOD!

Supported by some helping hands he then quickly found out
Ah, this is what brought you here, and that’s what you’re about

You grew up in Houston Texas – but considered this to be a mess
That’s why you went back to your roots – what you thought was the best

Signing with [COMPANY NAME] you easily managed
But settling down was at first a big challenge

House hunting in Amsterdam to you really felt odd
Instead a nice flat in Rotterdam you then got

Luckily the daily commuting those others may hate
To you it comes across as a pleasant twist of fate

To explain and still rhyme please allow me one of these crooks
The reason is that you are a “glutton for books”

But that’s not enough: you even write your own blog
With 400 followers – That’s how you rock!

I could continue for ever ’cause this was really a pleasure
But I hope you all know Debby by now a bit better
Since this line also marks the end of my letter

However – since Sint was happy to hear, that you were good this year
You still deserve to open your gift before you go on with the beer

From Sint and his Piets

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8 responses to “Sinterklaas 101

  1. Haha, I like the poem :D! Sinterklaas always has been a fantastic holiday to me. I love kruidnootjes & marsepein <3 I used to watch to the TV show all the time and the songs are so catchy. They completely spoiled what this is all about by the whole racism discussion.. I didn't do anything about it this year, because there was no time, but next year I'm probably going to celebrate it two times to make up for it :p

    • Ha, thanks Mel 🙂 The songs really got stuck in my head this year without me ever listening to them. But oh well. And I agree, the racism thing… ugh. Celebrating it twice next year sounds like an excellent idea xD

  2. Eek! I always wanted to know more about this holiday. I can imagine kid’s faces when Sinterklass arrives! My favorite part is the poem exchange, and the poem written for you was well-done. I loved that they mentioned your blog! Maybe next year you can host one for Dutch bloggers! Gosh, I wish I was Dutch sometimes. The culture is just so exciting, and the cheese! Hehe.

    • Haha, so funny to see a foreigner so excited about our culture xD But glad you like it! Yeah, maybe I could host it for Dutch bloggers, but I dunno. I dunno. We shall see. I have a whole year, so xD I’ll keep it in mind. At least we are doing Secret Santa with book club and I might push them to write poems as well 😉 it would be pretty fun to share those on our blogs and everythings, haha.

  3. This is such a darling poem! And I love the fact that it’s part of the tradition. Sinterklaas sounds like a fascinating holiday, and I’m glad you enjoyed your celebration this year.

  4. Haaaaa, the poem is seriously awesome! And you didn’t even mention the ACTUAL surprises – you know, the crafting part? That is the BEST part. I once made a candy house for someone and it was beautiful, if I say so myself. :’)

    • HAHA. I fail at life, clearly. I’ve never done the crafting part. I dunno, I’ve only celebrated Sinterklaas like three times, and each time we just wrapped gifts and that was it. More just a secret Santa + a poem. SO. Yeah.