Sinterklaas is a traditional Dutch children's feast that is celebrated every year on the 5th of December. We have listed some typical traditions that come with celebrating Sinterklaas.
The Sinterklaas tradition goes back a long time ago. Originally, Sinterklaas' history starts in Turkey. In Myra (Turkey), Saint Nicholas was the bishop. When the bishop died on the 6th of December, in the year 340, his remains were brought to Italy. It might have been that Italy has been mixed up with Spain in the past, because even though Sinterklaas originates from Turkey, the tradition states that Sinterklaas comes from Spain on the day of the arrival in the Netherlands.
St. Nicholas was known as a man with good deeds, which is why he was declared holy. In the Sinterklaas tradition, Pieten throw "pepernoten" and other sweets towards children for them to catch. Historically, this has arisen from the money that St. Nicholas had given to the poor. Where his helpers, the so called Pieten, have come from is not sure. There are all kind of stories about them.
One of the main elements of the Sinterklaas tradition is the "intocht", or the arrival of St. Nicholas in the Netherlands. Every year in November, Sinterklaas gets a warm welcome from all Dutchies when he arrives from Spain. In almost every city, this celebration is performed in a very creative way. Sinterklaas may arrive by bike, helicopter, train or traditionally by steamer. After arrival, Sinterklaas jumps on his horse Ozosnel (before his horse was called Amerigo), imagine doing that as an old man ;), and together with his Pieten he waves at all children who have come to see him. The intocht is a big event in every city every year.
The arrival of Sinterklaas in the Netherlands is the first moment for children to put their shoes close to the fireplace in order to get presents or sweets.
Sinterklaas arrival in Enschede
Sinterklaas arrival in Enschede
Placing a shoe near the fireplace (or door, chimney or whatever works in your house) is a tradition around Sinterklaas where children place their shoe by the fireplace from the day that Sinterklaas arrived in the country. Most children make sure to put their wishlist or drawing and a carrot for horse Ozosnel in the shoe as well. The next morning, Sinterklaas has put pepernoten, candy and presents inside the shoe. Do not forget the sing the famous song "Sinterklaas Kapoentje" when placing the shoe.
There are a lot of sweets, candy and cookies that are traditionally eaten throughout Sinterklaas season. Pepernoten (spiced cookies), chocolate letters, schuimpjes (candy), (gevuld) speculaas and taai-taai are the most common. In the Sinterklaas tradition, Pieten throw "pepernoten" and other sweets towards children for them to catch. You can buy the traditional candy, chocolate and cookies at most supermarkets and other stores that sell food.
Strooigoed (pepernoten, schuimpjes and chocolate letter)
The final tradition that is part of Sinterklaas is "pakjesavond", which translates to "evening full of presents". It looks similar to Christmas Eve, where everyone receives their presents from Sinterklaas. It is common to write down a wishlist, so Sinterklaas knows exactly what to buy. On Pakjesavond, Sinterklaas sometimes even visits several houses together with his Pieten.
Pakjesavond is filled with eating sweets, singing traditional songs and receiving presents. After "pakjesavond" Sinterklaas quietly returns home to Spain.