Sinterklaas Arrives in The Netherlands


Who is this Sinterklaas and what is it all about you may ask? Here’s a summary of all you need to know.



Sinterklaas or Saint Nicholas is a tradition which is embraced by families and children throughout The Netherlands and other countries across the world each year. His birthday (namesake day) is on December 5th and that is when most official Sinterklaas celebrations take place.

Pieten Cakes


Grand Entrance- Pieten and Letters and their Character

It all begins when he makes his grand entrance to the county on his ‘Stoomboot’ (steamboat) after his long journey from Spain. This itself fills children with great excitement and anticipation as adults share stories of calamities which may result in him not making it after all. Luckily, against all the odds each year he reliably turns up to the delight of crowds of children, often also dressed up as Sinterklaas or one of his friendly ‘Pieten’ (helpers called Piet).

The steamboat is closely followed by his ‘Pakjesboot’ which is the boat filled to the brim with presents. Children sing traditional songs and wave frantically as he arrives. When Sinterklaas disembarks his boat he mounts his fantastic white horse called Americo and then parades through the town/city to greet the children who have come to see him.

You will also spot he has a big red book which contains all the information that has been gathered about the children who have been good and bad. In fact if you’re on the naughty list, the story has it that you will be put in his sack and return in the boat back to Spain!!!! This whole procession is wonderful fun, the Pieten hand out sweets and pepernoten which are small spiced biscuits synonymous with Sinterklaas. But the Pieten don’t just hand out treats, there are some that can do fantastic acrobatic tricks, play music or even abseil down buildings making the whole event quite spectacular.


Sinterklaas Journaal

Something that is really quite special is the ‘Sinterklaas Journaal’. This is a daily televised news slot for children devoted to Sinterklaas and how things are going leading up to the big day! Each year there is a dilemma which needs to be overcome and there are jokes, sketches and trivia for the children to enjoy. As Sinterklaas arrives in the middle of November and his birthday doesn’t take place until December 5th this means there are weeks of fun to be had especially as the Sinterklaas Journaal begins a week before he arrives.

Clog and Carrot



Each night children put their shoe by the chimney or by their door in the hope that Sinterklaas’s Pieten may visit and leave a treat or small gift in their shoe. Then they hurriedly rush to check each morning to see if they have been. Some even have a calendar which will let children know which night to put their shoe out because as we all know ‘Sinterklaas is a very busy man.’ When a child puts their shoe out they can also put pictures in it for Sinterklaas, a carrot for his horse or their ‘Verlanglijstje,’ which is their letter to Sinterklaas with their wish list of gifts.

Sinterklaas Shoes

Often Pieten will get up to mischief which can result in some children arriving at school and finding the whole class turned upside down and pepernoten thrown around just to leave a little clue as to who did it.


The Pieten

At school and sports clubs and even in shopping centres you’ll find activities so as you can learn to be like a Piet. This is called Pietengym. Children practise climbing so as they can climb buildings, squeezing through holes before descending through chimneys, balancing as they walk across rooftops and throw presents. If they can complete all these task then they receive a Pietdiploma (certificate).

Pieten have been met with some controversy in recent years as they have often had blackened faces and seen as slaves. Understandably there has been a conscientious move to alter this and to represent these fun and much loved characters to be from all races. For the children the Pieten make this period plenty of fun and there really is a Piet for everything from spy Piet, listening Pieten and even clean your teeth Piet if you so wish.

Sinterklaas boat NBTC


Sinterklaas Shop


Sinterklaas’s birthday

So what exactly does happen on his actual birthday? When Sinterklaas arrives he comes with his Pieten helpers and with a big sack full of gifts. Although some families have a visit in person most children will hear a knock on the door, pepernoten goes flying and the sack is mysteriously left at the door. Traditionally there is a poem read to each child and adult which gives some information about what Sinterklaas knows about them, what they like, what the Pieten may have spied and perhaps even a clue to their gift. Then they come forward to collect their special present which has been brought all the way from Spain and delivered by Sinterklaas and his horse which has managed to walk along the rooftops.


During my time living in the Netherlands I have become accustomed to seeing multiple Sinterklaas’ fully clad in their traditional costumes dashing across the streets as they rush to their next family to deliver presents to eagerly awaiting children.

If you happen to be in The Netherlands around this time of year you will perhaps spot chocolate letters in the shops and supermarkets. This is because each person receives a chocolate letter to represent the first letter of their name from Sinterklaas. They can come in all sizes, flavours too!

Sinterklaas candy



Sinterklaas is a family celebration. Sometimes to add a little mystery and surprise to the event games can be played where presents are passed around and a task carried out which means you never know which gift will end up as yours. Gifts are even packaged in a personal way that disguises its contents.

Once all the fun is over and Sinterklaas leaves the country on the 6th of December, to begin preparations for his next birthday, Christmas preparations in The Netherlands begin……


By Jane

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