It’s that time of year again; Sinterklaas is in the Netherlands
Saturday, the 18th of November, was a very exciting day for all children in the Netherlands. It marked the arrival of Sinterklaas and his helpers with their steamship. The good saint had a long journey, traveling all the way from Spain, and arrived safely in the city of Gorinchem.
The beloved Saint dressed in red with a long, white beard
Sinterklaas is a beloved tradition, and celebration in the Netherlands with stories of a horse trotting over rooftops, helpers sliding down chimneys, and magical gifts. The name refers to both the holiday and the good saint Nicholas himself. This holiday can be seen as the Dutch equivalent of Christmas, with an old bearded man dressed in red who hands out gifts to kids on his own birthday; December 5th. Before ‘pakjesavond’ on December 5th, there is a 2-week pre-celebration which includes his arrival, a daily news broadcast about the endeavors of Sinterklaas and his helpers, and kids putting their shoes in front of a fireplace at night in hopes they’ll find a small present in the morning.
The journey that always goes wrong and gets little hearts worried
Kids were a bit worried this year, as the daily Sinterklaas broadcast reported there was no home available for Sinterklaas and his helpers. It turned out that the home Sinterklaas planned to move into was already occupied. “What a disaster!” children across the country echoed as they wondered were the beloved Saint and his helpers going to stay, store all the gifts for every child in the Netherlands, and bake plenty of batches of pepernoten with no kitchen how would they? To make matters worse, the big book with information about the children in the Netherlands was left behind in Spain. Luckily the head helper saved the day, he had an empty book and asked all the children to leave their names behind so the book would be completed in no time. A generous family opened their home to Sinterklaas and his staff as they were moving to Portugal to open a campground. With these issues solved, the Netherlands got back on track to celebrate Pakjesvond!
Preparing for the upcoming celebrations
The coming week will be centered around gift buying, wrapping, and writing poems. Families will also indulge in eating lots of pepernoten in preparation for Pakjesavond on December 5th. On this day, families will gather and may expect a loud knock on the door to find Sinterklaas’ signature burlap sacks with presents in them.
Families with older children usually help Sinterklaas a little with providing gifts. Shortly after Sinterklaas arrives, they will draw a raffle with a name and some gift ideas on there. Once picked, it is time to bust out your arts and crafts skills and build a surprise; a gift hidden in a handmade work of art accompanied by a short poem. The artwork and poem usually revolve around the gift receiver, considering their hobby, profession, favorite animal, color, etc. The poems are written from Sinterklaas or his helper’s perspective as they are meant to know every detail or even secrets about that person. After everyone has unwrapped their gifts, it is time to reveal who made a surprise for whom.