Who is Sinterklaas?
Arriving from Spain by steamboat, he disembarks to mount a white steed by the name of Amerigo. This figure wears a red cloak and tall hat; he has a white beard and holds a shepherd’s staff and his big book of who is naughty and nice in hand for administration. He also has a helper who carries a burlap sack filled with candy to give to good children and a willow branch to spank the naughty ones!
December holds a number of holidays for many of the countries around the world, whether they include the same traditions or not. In the weeks before December 5th (St. Nicholas Eve), Dutch children leave a shoe by the fireplace or windowsill and sing Sinterklaas songs in hopes that he will come in the evening to leave some presents. They double their chance at getting a treat in the morning if they leave a carrot or some hay in the shoe for Amerigo.
During this time, Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet travel all around the Netherlands to schools, hospitals, departments stores and, hopefully, your home! While bakeries make literal tons of speculaas and pepernoot along with chocolate molded letters, some Dutch families begin on their great surprise.
What is Surprise?
While it’s spelled the same way in English, it’s pronounced differently in Dutch and, in Sinterklaas terms, means something a little different…
On the evening of December 5th, families come together to eat, be merry and open their surprise. This is a very fun (and often stressful) tradition that the Dutch do, usually consisting of a very personal gift (useful or not) which may come with a poem. This gift may take hours of preparation and a lot of thought can go into it.
One of your family members is always complaining about having cold feet and happens to be engaged at the same time. So you write a poem about their literal cold feet and acknowledge the old saying about cold feet (meaning changing your mind when one is about to make a big commitment). They will read this poem out loud; it will make them laugh (or re-think their decision!), and then open the gift… a big pair of warm wool socks.
You can also arrange a scavenger hunt, game show, home-made board game or the classic nested boxes opened to finally find a single pepernoot inside it. It’s a big creative, thoughtful and fun way to spend time with your family and demonstrate how much you care. (The Dutch also give regularly wrapped gifts, but what’s the fun in that?)
We hope you all enjoy the festivities and get the opportunity to experience all the traditions, try all of the treats and, best of all, meet Sinterklaas himself!