Dutch Sinterklaas Tradition
Dear Diva Readers,
here has the time gone? Can you believe it’s December already? It seems like just yesterday I was in Italy for Easter… and now Christmas will be here before we know it. Since I’m an American who’s lived in Europe for fourteen years I thought it would be fun to shed some light on European holiday traditions this month here on the blog. After living 5 years in Paris and before living the last 5 in Berlin, I lived in the Netherlands for nearly 5 years and they had what is quite possibly the most unusual Christmas tradition in the world!!!
Their Sinterklaas can be compared to the American Santa Claus. In the Netherlands, Sinterklaas is celebrated on the eve of Saint Nicholas Day (December 6) by the giving of gifts, much like Americans do on Christmas Day. However, Sinterklaas doesn’t just come on Saint Nicholas Day eve. Gone are the reindeers and sleigh… for this Juletide character traditionally arrives in the Netherlands in mid-November on a steamboat from Spain. After disembarking, he rides through the streets on his white horse Amerigo. All over the country parades form while children flock to him and his helpers – the Zwarte Pieten – singing traditional songs such as “Hij Komt” while Sinterklaas and the Piets throw candy and other treats into the crowds.
For the next few weeks, until December 5, Sinterklaas makes special visits to schools, hospitals and other public areas where he can see all the children and build excitement for Saint Nicholas Day eve. Throughout the year, it is said that Zwarte Piet listens at the chimneys to hear if children are being bad or good and he then reports to Sinterklaas. If the children have been naughty, Piet would punish them on Saint Nicholas Day eve. However, that portion of the traditional lore has fallen out of fashion in modern times.
On the night of December 5, children believe that Sinterklaas sends Zwarte Piet to their houses with burlap sacks filled with presents. Typically gifts are accompanied by a poem or personal message from Sinterklaas – gatherings of friends or colleagues mean that you write these poems in secret to share about the gift recipient.
I always find it interesting that holiday traditions throughout the world are quite similar. Of course there are certain details that are unique to each country and culture, but at the end of the day, good boys and girls receive presents while naughty ones do not. So the lesson here is: Be good!
The Antiques Diva®