If you ventured in Hilversum town centre last Saturday, you are now fully tuned in with pepernoten, (small round speculaas biscuits) Sinterklaas, (this old white beard bishop-like looking man), Zwarte piets (these black clownish looking guys who come in all shapes and sizes- fancy dressed children put aside) …but my advice is to leave political correctness aside for a bit and rather enjoy the humorous and festive atmosphere and entertainment they will provide for the next 3 weeks.
Be prepared to embrace this children’s favourite Dutch celebration…and to be immersed into it until 5th December (pakjesavond). That evening, Dutch families get together to celebrate the Sint’s birthday and children get treated to presents provided they have left their shoes by the door or by the fire place, and although a chocolate letter might do for those of us not so keen to indulge in present buying 3 weeks before Christmas, you might like to know that the average Dutch home spends around 130 euros on presents for Sinterklaas.
As for us grown-ups, it is a chance to show off our creative talents as the Dutch exchange witty poems and home wrapped and made gifts (called surprises), which upper school children will also be asked to do for one of their class mate.
Sinterklaas arrived officially from Spain on his boat (luckily we have one canal in Hilversum!!) mid November every year, and will be the spotlight for a while so why not use him to bribe your children into good behaviour…as all the zwarte piets are busy looking around everywhere and checking on them (if they eat their dinner, if they brush their teeth, if they share their toys, if they tidy up after themselves, if they are well-mannered etc… the piets even come into the lower school at some point and mess up the classrooms looking for evidence of good work…a great “mise en scene” by the teachers and a good chance to test out our little one’s ability to clean up mess…and since no child wants to be taken back to Spain by the zwarte piets in one of those burlap bags for behaviour, imaginewhat this Sint business can do for your peace and quiet if you manage it well!
At work your children under the age of 9 will probably all be invited to a Sinterklaas day and treated to a show and a present on the day.
So now you believe me, Sinterklaas is a national… conspiracy… with even a special daily news bulletin on national television (Sinterklaasjournaal) which, children’s entertainement put aside, serves to show how far the Ducth are prepared to go to keep the magic of childhood alive…After 7 years of it, I must confess I do like to watch my children sing Sinterklaas songs, put their drawings and shoes in front of the fire place, a carrot for the horse, and rejoice at the sight of their beaming little faces as they discover the zwarte piets have filled up their shoe…which they are entitled to do…anytime between now and the 5th of December! Happy Sinterklaas everybody!
Read more on this celebration
Watch the journal
Learn the songs!