The arrival of Sinterklaas!
Winter season in Western Europe is celebrated with Christmas markets, ice skating, Gluhwein and Oliebollen. The best of the Christmas season in the Netherlands, however, is not the eve of 24th of December as this day is specially reserved for a traditional family dinner but the arrival of Sinterklaas before the 5th of December!
The festivities around Sinterklaas’ arrival begin mid-November when he is expected to arrive from Spain by boat. The boat anchors, Sinterklaas disembarks and parades through the streets on his horse Amerigo together with his Zwarte Piet assistants who throw kruidnoten or pepernoten (traditional gingerbread-like cookies), into the children. Zwarte Piet’s (a name that was given to Sinterklaas’ entourage) face is black because he is considered being a Moor from Spain. Nowadays, many people prefer to say that his face is blackened with soot because he has to climb through chimneys to deliver gifts to the children for Sinterklaas. The figure of Zwarte Piet is subject to numerous debates as associated with slavery in the past centuries. However, children adore him and dress up in traditional Zwarte Piet costumes to welcome his arrival.
What about the presents for the adults? According to the tradition, a lottery takes place before the 5th of December and designates who buys a present for who (well this is the ”adult” version, and a mystery for much more fun is introduced). Then everybody chooses a present, wraps it in a funny way and writes a poem about Sinterklaas and his/ her gift partner. The evening of the 5th the family or the group of friends reunite and exchange presents. It’s always so much fun, especially for expats like me who discovered a new tradition. This year we had a special Sinterklaas arrival celebration at work, then I went for a hot chocolate at Museumplein where Christmas lights, ice skating area, and little cozy cafes create an absolute Christmas spirit. On the 5th I am having a Sinterklaas present exchange with a group of friends! Can’t wait!
What is the Christmas tradition you were introduced to while being/ living in another country?