In The Netherlands, the big celebration for kids is not Santa Claus or Christmas, but a few weeks earlier. The celebration is on Saint Nicholas Eve, on December 5. Saint Nicholas lived in Turkey in the 4th century, and used his wealth to support the needy. He was bishop of Myra, and according to legend, helped children in various ways. Still now, for the Dutch Sinterklaas is not only the old man dressed up in red and white who gives presents to all children, but in general a generous person who gives away anything. Apparently, Saint Nicholas or Sinterklaas is the basis of the Santa Claus tradition in other countries, being a mispronounciation of Sinterklaas.
The entry of Sinterklaas is a big thing in the Netherlands: it is live on TV, and it marks a period of several weeks during which he goes around the country on his white horse (schimmel) with his black assistants (Zwarte Pieten) to make kids happy. In the evening, children would sing one of many traditional songs, put carrots, sugar, and other small food items in their shoe before going to sleep. The next morning, they may find a gift in their shoe. Often, this is candy, a chocolate letter (normally, the first letter of their name), marsepein, or something else. At school, Sinterklaas may come by with his big book in which he has something written about all kids, and talk to them briefly before giving them a present.
On December 5 is the big event: upon a knock on the front door, kids will find a big basket outside, full of presents. Often, presents are wrapped in a special way, or completely hidden in a "surprise", and always accompanied by a poem. Usually, the poem has a message, it can be teasing, admiring, or stimulating the receiver. The poem should be read aloud. In November, Sinterklaas officially arrives in the Netherlands, allegedly from Spain and not from Turkey, although no one knows why. He arrives on a steamboat, with a lot of Zwarte Pieten or Black Petes, and in the city centre, he mounts his white horse to parade through the city. The main event is in Amsterdam, although Sinterklaas has similar entries in all cities and towns in the country. Parents with kids flock the streets, cheer the old man, while the kids hold up their plastic bags hoping to get sweets and candy.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Sinterklaas entry (). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Sinterklaas entry.
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