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Sinterklaas in Town

The Grand Arrival of Sinterklaas has already taken place! He sailed into Amsterdam, paraded down the Amstel River and through the spectacular canals of the city followed by numerous festive boats and floats. You are definitely not from the Netherlands, if you are wondering who this famous man is. White-bearded Sinterklaas is none other than the patron of children Saint Nicholas, that in course of time has become a well-loved Dutch character on his own, even with a unique legend.

The Story
Every year in the middle of November Sint comes by steamboat to the Netherlands dressed in red-white-golden bishop attire, carrying a scepter and a huge book. This book tells all about good or bad behavior of each kid in the country. The well behaved ones will get nice treats and gifts, while the naughty ones will be taken by Sinterklaas when he leaves. Although originally he is from Turkey, nowadays Sint lives in Spain. Upon arrival, the old man sails along the towns with a breathtaking parade of small and big boats, all decorated and their passengers singing, dancing and having fun. Sinterklaas never comes alone, but is always accompanied by his cheerful helpers Zwarte Pieten (Black Petes)who entertain kids and sing happy songs. They are all in blackface with red-painted lips, wearing colorful clothing and a cap with a bright feather. Curly-haired Zwarte Pieten always carry a bag full of pepernoten (small round spicy cookies) and throw them in handfuls to all the spectators. It creates carefree and funny atmosphere that is so much loved by kids. Later Sint rides his loyal white horse called Amerigo down the main streets of Amsterdam bringing joy to even more Dutch people and tourists. Everybody comes to greet the saint and his crew, celebrating the arrival and beginning of winter holidays season with all the decorations and lights on.

The Celebration
Sinterklaas festivities will last till the 5th of December, as he will be visiting various towns, schools, shopping centers and public places. These three weeks will be especially exciting for kids, as they will be setting up a shoe for candies and gifts a few times during the period. It is a Dutch tradition that in the evening children will put it out with apples or carrots for Sinterklaas’s horse in hope to find something special or sweet inside of the shoe in the morning. The real celebration takes place mainly in a family circle on the 5th of December, a night before Saint Nicholas Day. Unlike most other Europeans, the Dutch do not give each other presents for Christmas, but they do so at this special night. In addition to the gifts, they exchange witty self-written poems that are addressed personally to each person. Dutch people pay also a lot of attention to wrapping and they treat it with care. Sometimes kids can prepare very strange and funny wrapping, which is a surprise telling something interesting about the receiver and maybe even teasing him mildly. At the same time, children usually receive their presents the next morning, when Sinterklaas leaves his bags in front of the door. That also marks the departure of Sint and Zwarte Pieten and their return home to Spain.

Must Try
During the time of celebrations remember to indulge yourself with must try Dutch treats and enjoy unforgettable sweet spicy flavors:

  • Kruidnoten-small ginger cookies, especially delicious when chocolate-covered
  • Chocolate letters-find your initial letters made of milk or dark chocolate
  • Amandelstaaf-sweet butter pastry filled with smooth almond paste
  • Marzipan-comes in all shapes, colors and can be chocolate-covered too
  • Speculaas- flat spicy crunchy cookies (speculaas paste is an amazing alternative for peanut butter)
  • Hot chocolate with whipped cream-gives you a cozy feeling of winter holidays.

Visiting Amsterdam during Sinterklaas festivities weeks can be very special and unique, as all the atmosphere, decorations, lights, songs and treats make it feel like a fairytale.

This post is also available in: Engels