Sinterklaas – A Christmas Tradition
Every country has their own traditions. Some seem stranger than others. How about an old man with a black companion who gives presents to children?
In the beginning of December there is a festival called Sinterklaas. This is celebrated on the 5th of December in The Netherlands and on the 6th of December in Belgium.
Sinterklaas is a tradition that has been going on since the 15th century. The name literally means Saint Nicholas, a bishop who the story is loosely based on. The appearance of Sinterklaas is a kind of mixture between Santa Claus and a bishop. He is an old man with long white hair, a long white beard and he wears a red mitre and ditto cape. Sinterklaas has some helpers. He has a grey horse and a companion named Zwarte Piet (in English: Black Pete).
5th of December
Sometime in November, Sinterklaas arrives with his helpers on a boat from Spain. Then, on the evening of the 5th of December children put their shoes out. They can fill it with a carrot or a sugar lump for Sinterklaas’ horse or a beer for Zwarte Piet. Some kids also create drawings or make lists of the presents they want. Then they sing different Sinterklaas songs.
When they are asleep Sinterklaas, Zwarte Piet and their horse walk over the roof. Then Zwarte Piet comes down through the chimney, puts presents and candy in the shoes and heads off to other houses.
6th of December
In the morning, children storm down from their beds to see what they got. Examples of typical Sinterklaas-candy are gingerbread, chocolate and marzipan. After the 6th of December, the festivities are over and people can start thinking about Christmas.
Over the past few years, the festivities of Sinterklaas have been questioned. The figure of Zwarte Piet has been seen as racist, mainly because of his colour (black) and his position (servant). There have been several manifestations and serious debates about it on television.
There are several movies and TV-shows about Sinterklaas. Since last year the look of Zwarte Piet has changed. He isn’t completely black anymore. In Belgium he is portrayed as a Caucasian man with black streaks on his face, because of the chimney. In The Netherlands there are even Black Petes who are not portrayed as black at all anymore.
Since I am pretty sure that there are no Dutch or Belgian children reading this article, I can tell you the truth. Of course there is no real Sinterklaas en Zwarte Piet who walk on rooves and come through chimneys to give candy to kids. It is what we make them believe (until they are about eleven years old). There are events where Sinterklaas en Zwarte Piet arrive by boat in Belgium and Holland, but those people are good actors. Because they arrive in different cities, we tell children that they are the helpers of Sinterklaas, because he can’t do everything alone.
On the 5th of December children put their shoes out and in the night their parents put candy and presents in their shoes. In the morning they all act pleasantly surprised. So it is very important that parents can act too!