Virtual Advent Tour & Giveaway: The Dutch Celebration of Sinterklaas
December 4, 2010 66 Comments
For the Virtual Advent Tour, I would like to discuss not Santa Claus, but Sinterklaas, the Turkish bishop, who comes to the Netherlands and Belgium every November to celebrate his birthday on the 5th of December. Iris and I have teamed up and she will continue the story about Sinterklaas on his birthday tomorrow.
Sinterklaas has been a tradition in the Netherlands for hundreds of years. Originally, this bishop came to bring money to the poor, but these days it’s a children’s celebration.
Just like lots of children all over the world believe in Santa Claus, in the Netherlands it’s Sinterklaas they believe in and usually stop believing in around 7 or 8 years’ of age.
He lives in Spain and arrives by (steam) boat around the middle of November. This event is televised and marks the beginning of the Sinterklaas season. The highlight is of course his birthday when he comes to people’s houses and delivers many presents (for kids and grown-ups alike).
He’s not alone, with him are several Zwarte Pieten (Black Petes) who help him distribute presents and sweets. Soon after he officially arrives in the Netherlands, he will also visit each individual town, either by boat or by horse (he officially rides a white horse called Amerigo). As you can imagine, there are a lot of stand-in Sinterklaas’ and Zwarte Piet’s!
Zwarte Piet has sweets in his bag (although in the old days he would use his bag to transport naughty children back to Spain!), notably pepernoten, which are small, slightly spicy biscuits (cookies). Usually Zwarte Piet will throw these around and kids collect them from the floor (when outdoors they get a fistful in their hand).
Sinterklaas: While he’s here
While Sinterklaas is around, from mid-November, he will visit schools, shops and other places. He doesn’t have a grotto or anything like it. However, kids can come to him and tell him what they’d like to get for presents.
Meanwhile, at night the children may put their shoe ready for Sinterklaas to drop a present in. Some lucky kids may be allowed to do this several times per week, others just once a week. They put their shoe near the fireplace (as we all know, Sinterklaas rides his horse over the rooftops and Zwarte Piet will come through the chimney). Children usually leave a drawing, a carrot or some straw for the horse in their shoe or leave it empty. What they all do, is sing a minimum of one Sinterklaas song standing near their shoe.
We have lots of Sinterklaas songs and they are sung every time we interact with Sinterklaas in some way (e.g., when he arrives in town, when we put down our shoe).
What might “Sint” put in your shoe? Expect a small gift (such as the smallest playmobil item), a book and/or some sweeties (like “mice and frogs”, picture right) or a chocolate letter with your own initial (picture left).
If you think that’s all, you’d be wrong! There are not many movies about Sinterklaas, but there are series on t.v. in which he features (different channels will have their own series). Usually these series run every evening or week until Sinterklaas’ birthday and they usually feature a story in which things go terribly wrong and Sinterklaas may not be able to deliver his presents on December 5th, unless… So exciting!
Furthermore, we have a daily Sinterklaas news show on t.v. with news that is related to Sinterklaas – a Zwarte Piet has lost his way, a child found a very special item in their shoe, the weather forecast (will it be too slippery for Sint to ride over the rooftops tonight?).
So you see, we Dutch are completely mad when it comes to Sinterklaas!
Visit Iris‘ blog tomorrow to find out what happens on Sinterklaas’ birthday, December 5th!
Now, since it’s Sinterklaas tomorrow, Iris and I are doing a giveaway! Two people can win a book by a well-known Dutch writer. You can enter if the Book Depository delivers to your country, as we will order the books from there. Stop by Iris‘ blog tomorrow for a chance to win The Discovery of Heaven by Harry Mulish.
Today you can win: Beyond Sleep by Willem Frederik Hermans. This is my favorite ever book that I first read when I was about 14 and read numerous times since.
The story: A PhD student in Geology goes on a summer trip to Norway to find evidence that meteorites have caused craters in the surface of North Norway. He travels with some Norwegian colleagues, but from the start, he is convinced that events conspire against him. He is suspicious of his fellow team members and of the Norwegian professor who did not provide him with the aerial maps that he was promised.
Things do not go well for poor Alfred. I love the writing and the story.
This book is also recommended in the Book Bloggers Abroad 2011 Challenge, so if you’re taking part in that, here’s your chance to win the book.
Let me know in a comment what aspect of Sinterklaas you like or dislike, or what you think of the custom in general. Only meaningful answers, that show you have read the post, will count. Don’t forget to leave your email address so I can contact you if you win.
For an extra entry, twitter about this giveaway and leave the link in your comment (this will count only once).
This giveaway will close at the end of the day (Netherlands’ time, of course!) on December 11th.
You don’t have to be a follower to enter. The winner will be announced on this blog and will also be sent an email. Please answer the email within 3 days, or a new winner will be chosen.
Good luck and happy Sinterklaas!