Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Sinterklaas in the Netherlands

Today, I'm going to be chatting about my expat life, and life here in the Netherlands! With all of the fun holidays happening in the US, I thought it would be nice to share some of the holiday traditions that are important here in the Netherlands, specifically Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas' Day) on December 6th.  

I'm sharing (as concisely as I can) a bit about how my in laws celebrate and the general Dutch traditions. 

It all starts off with the arrival of Sinterklaas, called the Sinterklaas intocht! This takes place about two to three weeks before the actual holiday. This is when Saint Nicholas comes from Spain to the Netherlands to prepare for the holidays. I was actually surprised to see that even the villages host an event for this, separately from the larger cities near them.

Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas Day) in the Netherlands {Welcome to Mommyhood}

All of the villagers started gathering outside in anticipation for Saint Nicholas' arrival. There was a host, who had a microphone, and was explaining to the kids and families that he had insider news that Sinterklaas was coming soon! The kids were supposed to search around the village for his boat. 

My son had a lot of fun walking around with his friends (who were waiting and looking for Sinterklaas' boat). 

Last year, we attended in a large city, where he arrived on a large boat, with many little ones surrounding. The city was swamped. Here in the village, there was nothing fancy, but all of the kids living here were outside, cheering with excitement and waiting for Sinterklaas to arrive on his boat. 

Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas Day) in the Netherlands {Welcome to Mommyhood}

While significantly less 'fancy', this village experience was quite personal in comparison. 

Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas Day) in the Netherlands {Welcome to Mommyhood}

The kids crowded the boat as Sinterklaas and his Zwarte Pieten arrived. 

Here's a note on the Zwarte Pieten (Black Pete? literally translated). I'm not going to get into this too much, but there is a lot of controversy regarding them. These tend to be Dutch folks with black face paint and gloves. They are Sinterklaas' helpers, and supposedly are black due to ash from climbing into chimneys to deliver gifts. There are a lot of opponents however saying that it's a racist, where as other people argue that it's tradition and has nothing to do with racism. To be honest, I was shocked to see this for the first time. 

My son was not impressed with the strange, bearded man and didn't want to go near him or his helpers, unlike the majority of other the kiddos. 

Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas Day) in the Netherlands {Welcome to Mommyhood}

The Zwarte Pieten handed out pepernoten to the children (they are a small cookie that tastes a bit like gingerbread). 


Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas Day) in the Netherlands {Welcome to Mommyhood}

Instead, Sinterklaas' horse and carriage were significantly more interesting, so my son hung out with our neighbours by the horses. 


Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas Day) in the Netherlands {Welcome to Mommyhood}

Sinterklaas then rode off on the horse led carriage, with the helpers and majority of villagers following. The helpers had hid all sorts of presents (usually drawings from the children to the Sinterklaas) throughout the village. The kids helped to hunt them down.  


Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas Day) in the Netherlands {Welcome to Mommyhood}

Meanwhile my son enjoyed walking hand in hand with his girlfriends ;) 

Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas Day) in the Netherlands {Welcome to Mommyhood}

And I saw this cool bike. 


Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas Day) in the Netherlands {Welcome to Mommyhood}

Random photo- the reason why all of my stiletto heals have been ruined: the dreaded cobblestone road. 


Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas Day) in the Netherlands {Welcome to Mommyhood}

I didn't wear heels on our exploration, and we had a great time walking around the village with Mr. Toddler! 

What usually happens after the arrival of Sinterklaas, is that kids will lay their shoes out the night before. In the morning, they can find small gifts. Families do this bit differently, but we bought a bunch of small cars, and have been leaving them in Mr. Toddler's shoes on the weekends. We will do this until 5 December. Some families leave a carrot out (for Saint Nicholas' horses).  

We also have a fun celebration with my in laws, before or after the actual holiday. My husband and I then celebrate the day of together. This year, we had the larger celebration on 22 November, the same day that we did all of the above. 

We pick the names of family members from an envelope, and buy gifts only for the people we pick. We make a 'surprise' for them and write a poem about them as if from Sinterklaas. 


Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas Day) in the Netherlands {Welcome to Mommyhood}



And then eat tons of mashed potatoes! 


Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas Day) in the Netherlands {Welcome to Mommyhood}

The top ones had saurkraut in them, and the bottom had kale! These take mashed potatoes to a whole new level! Loaded mashed potatoes are absolutely my favourite Dutch dishes, and my favourite dishes that my mother in law cooks! Delicious! 

This really is a fun holiday and we're making up our own traditions in our mixed culture home! It's been a lot of fun to discover our different ways of doing things and the rhythm that works well for my husband and I. 

For more expat stories and more about life in the Netherlands, checkout these expat posts!


Questions


  • What kinds of traditions do you have for the holidays?  
  • Do you celebrate Saint Nicholas' Day? 

PS - Happy Thanksgiving to those of you from the United States! 


Thank you so much for stopping by!
Yuliya