Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Sinter Klaas

This post comes really late... I admit I should have written it like some months ago. But later is better than never :) Besides, some Dutch tradition is not bad from time to time!

In the Netherlands, there is no Santa Claus or Three Wise men tradition. Instead they have Sinter Klaas. Sinter Klaas (Saint Nicholas) looks pretty much like Santa Claus but it is completely different. He comes on 5th December, for example.

The story tells that Sinter Klaas comes by boat from Spain a few days/weeks before 5th Dec (Sinter Klaas' day). The day he arrives in the Netherlands, TV broadcasts his arrival in the country. Some weeks before 5th Dec, kids leave their shoes next to the fireplace and sing some Sinter Klaas songs. The day after, they will get some chocolate or cookies. That goes on for some days/weeks depending on how good kids have been or family economy! Since he arrives in the country, he travels from South to North. Every day, he is in a different city or region. For example, last December, I found a crowd composed mostly by children waiting in Leiden's main square, next to the small boats'harbour. The explanation I got from a Dutch college was that they were waiting for Sinter Klaas to arrive at Leiden.

Additionally, Sinter Klaas has an assistant called Zwarte Piet (Black Peter). He is not black, just he is dirty with chimney soot he gets when he comes into houses using the chimney! This Zwarte Piet (or Zwarte Piets, as they usually come in packs of 2 or 3) give cookies or chocolates to kids. Those days, it is actually normal to find cinnamon cookies everywhere! In every shop or every restaurant!

We also had one guy disguised as Sinter Klaas and some Zwarte Piets in ESTEC! They were asking some people what they wanted for the coming year at lunch in the main restaurant!

Ahh, by the way, if kids behave badly during the year, Sinter Klaas takes you with him to Spain!! Just another proof that the wars between the Netherlands and Spain for religion are still well rooted in Dutch tradition!

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