Sunday, December 5, 2010


The Dutch have a Sinterklaas tradition that mirrors the American folklore of the breaded man in a red suit with his magical helpers and flying stabled animal friends.  I spent a few minutes really thinking about their traditions, and I don't think its gonna fly as a mainstream thing over on this side of the pond. They are SO un-PC that to even mention some of these things in passing makes me lookout for possible retaliation!  Yet, it is based on this holiday that our own Santa Claus tradition was born.  I can see why we changed things up a bit!  I'll break it down for you:

Sinterklaas is like Santa Claus.  He wears a red suit.  Traditionally, Sinterklaas is a normal sized person, rather than jolly and fat.  His hat, however, reminds me of the Pope!  Instead of 8 tiny reindeer, he has a grey horse named Amerigo.  He has a helper... and this is where is gets hinky.  His helper is called Zwarte Piet (Black Pete).  He is an adolescent African slave who helps Sinterklaas deliver presents to good boys and girls.  Nowadays, they claim Piet gets his color from sliding down the chimneys and getting all covered in soot (which is odd because his clothing is so vividly colorful!). 

Black Piet is mischievous and often changes personalities... he's Cool Piet (dressed as Elvis in blackface), Professor Piet, Music Piet, Head Piet, Rhyme Piet, and many more.  Currently, when Sinterklaas arrived in Amsterdam via a large boat, he has a cast of Pieten with him.  The more the merrier, right?

Here's the real kicker.... if you have been naughty, instead of receiving coal in your stocking/shoe and no good presents, it's much much worse if you are Dutch.  If you are slightly naughty, you can get a beating with a tree branch that Piet carries around with him, or if you are very very naughty, you will get tossed in Piet's bag and delivered to Spain where you will become a slave, too. I can imagine children in the Netherlands are exceptionally good in the late fall!

On December 5th, you put out your wooden shoes by the fireplace with a bowl of water and some carrots or hay (for the horse).  When you awake, you have a gift in your shoe replacing the carrot, and often a large burlap sack is left behind with loads of gifts for the whole family (and the family typically would not do this again on the 25th for Christmas... it's an either-or type of holiday, with the Sinterklaas day being the chosen day for those with pre-teen children, and Christmas Day being celebrated by most teens and adults). 

The presents that Sinterklaas and Piet bring you are usually chocolate (which is 50% of my nanny's daily diet every day of the year).  Chocolate letters are the big thing.  Move over hollow chocolate Santas... these solid chocolate letters rock!!  ;-)

They also leave a variety of gingerbread cookies, butter cookies and various sweets.  The Dutch people have a sweet tooth!

I am sure you are asking why I even know this stuff... well, my husband is Dutch (though he's 4th or 5th generation American with lots of other stuff mixed in over the years).  Therefore my kids are maybe an 1/8th "pure" Dutch.  And, our nanny who has been with us over 16 months now, is from Holland and introduced us to the holiday.  So it's fun to have other traditions.  The kids all think everyone else has the same traditions so having them tell their friends that the Piets came and gave them presents often leaves both parties very confused.  Even their own Dutch grandfather!  But then, most conversations 4 year olds have with one another often leaves people confused.

Therefore, for the 2nd year of many more to come, we put out our fake crocs with carrots, and woke up to jubilant children screaming that the Piets came while they were sleeping.  This year, kids got Disney Christmas ornaments in their shoes, and in the sack left by Piet, the family got chocolate letters (there goes that 5 pounds I lost last week...!), and the kids got fake Ugg boots, and Sinterklaas and Piet backpacks. 

And all was right in their world.

photo credit:  Wikipedia


  1. :-) So glad you posted this. My mother is Dutch\Indonesian and came to America when she was 9, so I'm familiar with Swarte Piet. Thanks for sharing!

  2. I learning how many of my friends have a Dutch or Indonesian background now!!

    We absolutely love this holiday! Sometimes I can't wait to give the girls gifts on Christmas when they can use them NOW (like jackets, boots, new jammies... etc.), so Sinterklaas is my way of spreading out the holiday joy! I hope they teach their own children these customs!

  3. Sinterklaus backpacks? Where did you get those? And umm who is the breaded man? ;) He sounds delicious.