December is the most exciting month during winter for visitors in Europe, especially when the snow starts falling and Christmas approaches. For Dutch people, it’s also a unique month of the year because of Saint Nicholas’s Day on 6th December. Saint Nicholas or Sinterklaas, who resembles Santa Claus, is a Dutch character loved by children for his reputation as a gift-bringer. Read on to know more about the Sinterklaas’s story, and to experience how local and foreign visitors in the Netherlands celebrate this national holiday.
Say Hi to the 'Dutch Santa Claus'
Sinterklaas originally comes from Turkey as St.Nicholas - an honourable man who was kind to children. He then chose to live in Spain, possibly due to the prior domination of the Spanish in the Netherlands. Every November, Sinterklaas travels from his home to the Netherlands with presents and special treats for children.
Sinterklaas is often accompanied by the Black Peter or Zwarte Piet. The story of the black piets, with sooty faces and time-warped costumes, remain as mysterious as Sinterklaas.
Every year between November and December, you would have chance to see Sinterklaas on his parade touring around the Netherlands. In 2015, one can expect Amsterdam to host the largest Saint Nicholas parade of the Netherlands on Sunday 15th November, with 600 Piets escorting him and over 400,000 spectators who line the canals.
Watch the waterborne show and parade
Hundreds of Piets perform like ‘professional gymnasts’ on boats floating slowly through hundreds miles of canals. After the show, Sinterklaas then trades his boat for this white horse Amerigo and continues the parade on the streets. A special musical programme for kids is often organized in the main square of each city he’s touring through.
During each parade, you can join countless others to gather and line along the canals, waving to Sinterklaas and his Piets. Kids are especially the most excited ones to see Sinterklaas, as various traditional sweets are thrown upon them by the piets. If you are lucky enough to approach him during his visits in small towns, have a hug or photo with him! His journey is broadcasted in national television and media.
Write poems and give presents
On the evening of 5th December, friends and family members anonymously give presents to one another. There will be a small gift and a short poem written personally for the recipient. At late night, everyone unwrap their gifts and read the poems out loud, which often appear funny. Though Dutch people celebrate Christmas regularly like in other European countries, Sinterklaas Day’s tradition of giving presents remains popular until today.
Eat pepernoten and enjoy Sinterklaas
Sinterklaas day ends with lots of treats like marzipan - confection of honey or sugar and almond meal, chocolate letters and especially pepernoten - sweet spice biscuits specially sold during late November and December. Thus, during this period of time, do not forget to buy lots of pepernoten to give your friends and family back home.
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