Sinterklaas, also known as Saint Nicholas, is dear to the hearts of Dutch children. He can be recognized by his eye-catching red cape with red miter and his long white beard. The saintly man arrives each year in mid-November on a steamboat filled with gifts and together with his helpers, all referred to as ‘Pieten’.
On the night when Sinterklaas arrives in The Netherlands, the children can put their shoes next to the chimney before going to sleep and sing a Sinterklaas song. There are also children who leave something to eat for Sinterklaas’ horse. If the children have been nice according to Sinterklaas, then Sinterklaas or one of his helpers will leave a present in the children’s shoe
On December the 5th it is present night when Sinterklaas visits all children with his helpers. The children then receive a lot of presents and often sweets. Typical sweets are the pepernoten. Pepernoten are as big as 2-euro coins and are very similar in taste to gingerbread cookies. Sinterklaas has his birthday on the 6th of December and then he will return to Spain with his helpers.
Sinterklaas is not the same as Santa Claus, although the characters are very similar. For a number of years Dutch people celebrate both parties with presents, while previously this only happened with Sinterklaas.
In recent years there has been a lot of commotion about the skin color of the Pieten. Opponents say that the figure has racist characteristics and is therefore no longer of this time. Proponents believe that Zwarte Piet is an innocent and child-friendly figure that belongs to the Dutch tradition.