Time for Sinterklaas

The end of November and first week of December - it is an exciting time in Holland. Why? Because Sinterklaas is in the country! Student ambassador Denyse shares her experiences with this festive event.

Posted by Denyse Degiorgio - Student Ambassador - International Institute of Social Studies, Erasmus University at Nov 28, 2018 10:30 AM

My introduction to Sinterklaas was unbeknownst to me. Long before the days of social media and mind-numbing scrolling sessions, I happened upon a computer game much like the Super Mario classic involving friendly coin-wielding mushrooms, mysterious green pipes and tubes, and lots of super-human jumping. But this version had a Christmassy slant to it – and only many years later did I realize that it was none other than the festive legend himself: Saint Nicholas, or as the Dutch happily call him, Sinterklaas! In this version ‘Sint’ would hop from roof to roof, collecting and delivering presents, sliding over icy chimneys and avoiding aggressive pigeons all before daybreak, lest the sleeping children wake up and spot him. Fast forward a good decade – the time: November; the place: Amsterdam city center.

 Sinterklaas - Denyse

Sinterklaas’ Story

In 2017 I did a year of voluntary service with a Dutch community helping individuals on the fringes of society. Living and working with Dutch colleagues allowed me to witness and experience first-hand many national traditions, one of which was Sinterklaas. The red-cloaked, friendly bearded fellow bears much resemblance to Santa Claus, Father Christmas, or whatever name you may know the character by in your respective countries and cultures. But which came first? Legend has it that Sinterklaas comes all the way from sunny Spain, and marches through the Netherlands on horseback, steamboat or foot. He kicks off the festive season by greeting the crowds in public, singing traditional songs and handing out kruidnoten or pepernoten, bite-sized spiced yet sweet cookies. In the run-up to his arrival children will put their shoes next to the fireplace with a carrot and bowl of water for Sinterklaas’ horse, in the hopes of finding goodies the next morning.

Sinterklaas2 - Denyse

Silly Sayings & Hidden Gifts

My personal experience was slightly different. The Amsterdam community I was volunteering for organized a private seating with the great man himself for us and all the children – how lucky were we!? He arrived with joyful helpers, gifts, treats, songs, and the all-important book of names deciding who was deserving of a present. Then, sitting in a circle, we exchanged gifts with the person we had been assigned earlier on in the month – but this was wrapped in a ‘fake’ gift and short poem associated with the less flattering character traits of the recipient! My gedicht (Dutch for short saying/poem) concerned a mother of twins who would sometimes cook for the community and in her haste, wanting to speak to and see everyone, mix up peoples’ names and always forget something behind her….like a baby bottle. 

Sinterklaas3 - Denyse

In turn, my gift was concealed in a wooden box painted with the face of a cat which was a nice cover-up for the traditional chocolate letter (the ones you see all over HEMA and Albert Heijn in November) waiting for me inside. Once the festivities were over, I compared it to the traditions I’m used to seeing and experiencing back home and was happy to joke about the differences with my Dutch colleagues. This year I saw Sinterklaas arriving in Den Haag from afar…but something tells me I won’t be as lucky with the chocolate!





Posted by Denyse Degiorgio - Student Ambassador - International Institute of Social Studies, Erasmus University at Nov 28, 2018 10:30 AM