Sinterklaas – the ultimate Dutch family holiday

It’s December and the streets of Amsterdam are flooded with Christmas atmosphere. I simply love those small wooden houses where you can buy tons of sweets and traditional treats like gingerbread nuts, oliebollen and stroopwafels. That’s the smell of Christmas.

One of my favorite things to do during the Christmas season is walking in the center, especially in the evenings when the city is enlighted with thousands of festive lights.



Santa Claus vs Sinterklaas

The most anticipated event is the arrival of Santa Claus. Well, in The Netherlands he is called Sinterklaas (Sint-Nicolaas). Every year in mid-November Sinterklaas arrives in Amsterdam along with his helpers called Zwarte Pieten. Sinterklaas doesn’t live on the north pole. He comes from Spain on a boat. After he arrives, he leads a parade while riding his white horse. There is also a canal parade. His loyal helpers usually throw sweets to the children on the streets. During the next several weeks Sinterklaas is busy with all sorts of events in The Netherlands. I actually saw him on a bike and he was in a rush.



Carrots in the shoes

According to the tradition, children leave their shoes next to a fireplace or a radiator. They also live water and wine for the good old Sinterklaas and put some carrots in their shoes for his horse. In the morning, the good children receive a present, a chocolate letter or some other sweets while the naughtiest children receive a charcoal. Some clever kids do this several times. On the other side, parents try to scare their children saying that if they behave bad Sinterklaas will put them in his bag and takes them away to Spain as punishment.

The festive mood reached a peak on the evening of December 5, the day before the feast of Sint-Nicolaas. Some parents do the following trick. When it gets dark, Zwarte Piet (a friend or a neighbor) knocks on the door and leaves a bag with gifts on the doorstep. Children run to the door, take the presents and the great unpacking begins. This is how children receive their presents, but that’s not all. Although Sinterklaas is the ultimate family holiday for the Dutch, many families also celebrate Christmas. They usually spend the day far more quietly. This time, children expect another Santa called Kerstman (Christmas man). Kerstman, unlike Sinterklaas, is not that popular, but also brings gifts. Here is another proof that Dutch children are the happiest children in the world 🙂

Happy Holidays!

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