It’s December already, and as you all know December is the month of festivities. Christmas, New Year’s Eve, you name it. But in the Netherlands we also celebrate “Sinterklaas”! This holiday is based on the mythical figure of Saint Nicholas and is celebrated on the 5th of December with the giving of gifts. I will shortly explain the myth behind this festivity.
Prior to the 5th of December, Sinterklaas and his helpers (“Zwarte Pieten”) arrive from Spain by boat somewhere mid-November. They then parade through the streets while children sing Sinterklaas songs and the Pieten throw around small ginger-like cookies called pepernoten (those are awesome).
In the period between Sinterklaas’ arrival and the actual day of celebration, Sinterklaas visits places like schools, hospitals and sports associations all over the Netherlands and they deliver presents to the children that did behave well during the year. Traditionally the children who did not behave, would be taken to Spain.
However, before the children get a present, they put their shoes next to the fireplace chimney and sing a traditional Sinterklaas song and the next morning a small present or some candy will be delivered by Pieten “through the chimney”
How the actual pakjesavond (5th of December) is being celebrated differs amongs families. Sometimes the family receives a note with the message that there is “a big bag with presents hidden somewhere in the house” or sometimes someone would knock on the front door or the window and leave a bag with presents in front of it. The children then all get a present and a poem.
However, once children have grow old enough to “discover the big secret of Sinterklaas”, families switch to another kind of celebration. They then often write down everyone’s name on a piece of paper and put these all in a bowl. Continuously, they each draw one of the tickets and for the person who’s name is on it, they make a “surprise”, buy a present and write a poem. This surprise often includes the present in it and represents something of the receiver. Likewise, the poem always brings a personal message to the receiver of the gift and it often contains a lot of humor, teasing the receiver with bad habits or awkward things that happened during the past year.
We obviously could not let such an awesome chance to celebrate this tradition go by. Therefore we celebrated Sinterklaas at UCG as well. In order to do so, everyone joining, had to buy some small presents with which we would play a game that would determine who would get which present(s). Some were lucky, some were not. But all in all, we had an awesome night with loaaaaads of pepernoten and we really enjoyed it!
Tomorrow the actual pakjesavond will take place, so I wish everyone who is celebrating Sinterklaas an amazing night. Have loads of fun and enjoy all of the pepernoten, schuimpjes, marsepein and other delicious Sinterklaas treats!
Have you ever celebrated Sinterklaas? And if so, in which manner? Let me know!
Fun fact: did you know that “Sinterklaas” was used as an inspiration for the Santa Claus icon?