Sinterklaas

I arrived in the Netherlands on Saturday morning via Frankfurt.  I couldn’t really sleep on the flight from Toronto to Frankfurt, but had a nice little nap on the flight from Frankfurt to Amsterdam. I suspect it’s because I had an emergency exit seat. If you’ve never experienced this before, it’s amazing, especially in comparison to the cramped seating in the regular rows.

R let me nap while he finished off a few things for the Sinterklaas celebration later that night. Like writing his poems and getting paper to wrap his gifts… We were each instructed to bring two gifts under 5 Euros (I took that to mean $10) and one thing that we no longer wanted to have.  We put our shoes by the door, and left for his brother and sister in law’s house.

I guess I should back-up a little bit, since those outside of the Netherlands probably don’t know the Dutch tradition of Sinterklaas! It was pretty new to me. Sinterklass, or De Sint, is celebrated on the evening of December 5th. He arrives in the Netherlands each year in mid-November by steamboat from Spain with his valet Zwarte Piet. This year, he arrived on the same day as the Santa Claus parade in Toronto!

Sinterklaas (source) Santa Claus (source)

(As an aside, just as I was leaving, it was on the news that the Sinterklaas celebration in New Westminster had been cancelled (http://www.sinterklaas.ca/) due to the controversial nature of Zwarte Piet. I will admit the Zwarte Piet were a little shocking to me – I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone dress in blackface before.)

On December 5th, and sometimes in the weeks before, R tells me, children put their shoes next to the fireplace with a carrot or some hay in it and a bowl of water nearby for Sinterklaas’ horse. Zwarte Piet enters homes through chimneys at night and takes the horse’s food from the shoes and exchange it for candy and other treats.  Very reminiscent of the stockings we leave out for Santa on Christmas, no?

Sinterklaas for grown-ups means a party of giving and receiving gifts, much like on Christmas. Gifts are accompanied by a poem which serves to embarrass the addressee by reminding him or her of some embarrassing moments in the past year, or to point out a general failure of character in a mocking way.

We went to R’s brother and sister-in-law’s house where sat down to talk. In total there were 12 adults and 2 children. His nephew just started learning English in school, but we’re both too nervous to talk to each other yet! His niece is still young, and believes in Sinterklaas, and that made the celebration even more fun! She was enjoying a video of Zwarte Pieten singing and dancing. Each Piet has a different role to play, and this video had ‘Magician Piet’, ‘Cool Piet’, ‘Tall Piet’, and ‘Singing Piet’, who looked like Elvis!

The family began singing some songs, and suddenly there was banging on the door and windows. R’s nephew went to the door to find a laundry basket full of gifts, mostly the kids. It was awesome to watch them open their gifts! His nephew got some awesome looking games, including a Lego strategy game (!!!!!!!) and anti-monopoly, both of which I want to play! The dog also came away with a sweet hoodie, which he was not too keen to wear at first.


The adults were instructed to get their gag gifts and put them in the centre of the table. We got ourselves seated at the table while R’s aunt got out two ridiculously large novelty dice. The rules for the game were simple. Each person rolled the die. A roll of 1 or 6 meant pick a gift, read the poem and open the gift. A roll of 2 meant move one seat to the right, a roll of 4 meant move one seat to the left, leaving any unwrapped gifts with the seat. If you rolled a 1 or a 6 and there was already a gift in your seat, you picked a gift and gave it to someone who didn’t have one.  After everyone had a gift, there was one last round, where a rolled 1 meant you had to exchange your gift with someone else, a rolled 6 meant you had to exchange two other peoples gifts. Rolls of 2 and 4 meant the same as in the first round. It was so much fun because you didn’t know what you were going to end up with until the very last person rolled!

I was very lucky and managed to not roll a 1 or a 6 the whole time, meaning I didn’t have to read any Dutch poems!

Just as the round of gift exchanges was ending, there was some more singing, and more banging on the window, but this time I could see two black faces! Two Zwarte Pieten had come to pay us a visit, and brought these delicious little gingerbread cookies, that they threw everywhere!!  R’s nice was a little scared of them. R’s family offered the Pieten some beers, and they did a bit of dancing and sat on the couch, and there were lots of pictures taken.  R told me that this was the first time this had been arranged. At one point, R’s niece pointed out (quite accurately, I suspect) that ‘Piet doesn’t drink beer.’ We though it was hilarious!

Me and the Zwarte Pieten

When the Pieten left, we continued the gift exchange with the non-gag gifts, but in the 2nd round, each person got two gifts.

I left with a playboy and two penthouse magazines from the gag-gift round, a lottery advent calendar and another playboy from the gift round. At least I can pack them all in my suitcase easily, though I wonder if I might have trouble getting the 100,000 Euro lottery winnings in! There was a live bird in the gag-gift round, but it went to someone who was happy to have it, which made me very happy.

I lasted until about midnight, at which time I don’t think I could have paid attention to an English conversation, forget about trying to follow a Dutch one!

When we got home, we found that de Sint had left us each a clementine and a chocolate letter from our first names! I was surprised about this, and I still can’t figure out when he did it!

I’m sorry for the lack of photos, I’ve had some camera trouble and have used my blackberry instead. I also stole some photos from R’s cousin!

2 thoughts on “Sinterklaas

  1. This is awesome and if that hot guy next to you is “R” then WOOOHOOOO – way to go Lyndz! I approve 😛

    I never knew all about these dutch traditions. My neighbour is dutch maybe I should go tell him all I've learned! 😀 glad you're having fun!

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