Musings

Christmas in the Netherlands

Hello everybody,

I haven’t written any blogs for two years because my father died in January 2014 and then I moved house. I have now written another book called “The Anstruther Lass” a historical romance set in Dundee in 1865 and so I decide to start writing blogs again to promote the book.

As it is nearly Christmas and the hero in the book is a Dutchman, I did some research about Christmas in the Netherlands and I thought you might all like to hear about it. So here goes:

For a start, the most important day during December is 5th December when Sinterklaas (St Nicholas) brings the Dutch children presents. The name Santa Claus comes from the name Sinterklaas. St Nicholas’s day is actually on the 6th December but the major celebrations are held on 5th December. The children leave a shoe by the fireplace or windowsill and they hope that Sinterklaas will come during the night with some presents.

The other difference is that St Nicholas does not live at the North Pole but in Madrid, Spain. That is probably because from the sixteenth century till early in the eighteenth century the Netherlands was under the Spanish Crown as part of the States of the Holy Roman Empire in the Low Countries.

Celebrations start on the second Saturday of November when Sinteklaus travels to a city or town in the Netherlands, and every year he chooses a different harbour so as many children as possible get a chance to see him.  Legend has it that St Nicholas originally came from Turkey and is venerated as the patron saint of sailors, which is the reason he arrives by boat.

He travels with his servants called “Zwarte Pieten” (Black Peters). When they come ashore from the steamboat all the local church bells ring in celebration. Sinterklaas, dressed in his red robes, leads a procession through the town, riding a horse.  He is welcomed by children cheering and singing traditional Sinterklaas songs, the Zwarte Piets throw candy and traditional biscuits into the crowd.( I don’t know what the liberals and PC experts in this country would make of this but probably they would try to ban it saying that the Black Piets human rights were being abused! )

Another thing that is different, children are told that the Zwarte Piet’s keep a record of all the things they have done in the past year in a big book. Good children will get presents from Sinterklaas but bad children will be put in a sack and a Zwarte Pieten will take them to Spain for a year to teach them how to behave. (Sounds like the stuff of nightmares!)

The children leave some hay and carrots for Sinterklaas horse as they are told that during the night Sinterklaas rides on the roofs on his horse and that a Zwarte Piet will climb down the chimney (or through a window) and put the presents and/ or candy in their shoe.

In many families, the children are told that Sinterklaas and Zwarte Pieten make a weekly visit from November, so the children leave their shoes every Saturday until the main Sinterklaas party on 5th Dec.

Sinterklaas parties are held on St Nicholas’ Eve, ‘Sinterklassavond’ or ‘Pakjesavond’ and special biscuits and sweets are eaten at the party One type of biscuit is called ‘letter blanket’ or blank letter, (meaning letter cake which is made from marzipan or pastry. The biscuits are made in the shapes of the first letter of the people’s names that are at the party. Another sweet biscuit served up is, ‘peppernoot’ made with cinnamon and spices in the pastry biscuit mix, and kerstrans, a Dutch Christmas ring cake.

The children will receive their presents during the evening, there might be a knock at the door, and they might find a sack full of presents!

On the 6th of December, Sinterklaas leaves the Netherlands by steamboat via the entrance of the port of Rotterdam, called the Hook of Holland and he travels back to Spain.

Christmas day is much quieter and the Dutch celebrate with a Church Service and family meal. Although the children have already received their presents throughout December, some lucky Dutch children also get a visit from Santa Claus (who is also called Christmas man/ Kerstman to avoid confusion with Sinterklaas).  He comes from Lapland in Finland to deliver more presents!

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