A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
So, in case you hadn’t already realised, one of the biggest Dutch holidays is coming up: Sinterklaas!
On the 5th December, Sinterklaas visits the children of The Netherlands, leaving goodies such as toys and treats. The legend goes that Sinter arrives on a boat from Spain into the Netherlands bringing with him presents for the children along with the (now infamous) Zwarte Pieten. According to tradition, Sinter employs different Piet for different purposes: there is a Piet to hand out gifts, a Piet to drive and a Piet to bring the presents down the chimney. There are different stories about the origin of Zwarte Pieten, some suggesting that the Piet are symbolic of ravens, others claim they represent a slave helped by Saint Nicholas whilst some hold that his black face occurred after a fall down the chimney.
Whatever the story, the Zwarte Piet are part of the holiday season for the Dutch, explaining why now walking around town it’s hard to miss a black face in a shop window or in the market.
Sinterklaas, and his Pieten, appear to mediate their arrival in The Netherlands, arriving by boat to different cities on different weekends. Being the child that I am, I was able catch a glimpse of him both in The Hague and in Leiden. He’s now staying in the winter wonderland in the main street in Leiden, so if you too want to catch a glimpse of Sinter you’ll be able to see him there!
Whatever your opinion on the Zwarte Piet tradition, it has to be admitted that watching them doing handstands on a boat on the canal was certainly an interesting experience and one which was great fun to see and certainly seemed to get me into the holiday spirit!
The children certainly loved it and it was really interesting to hear some of the Dutch Christmas songs such as this one:
I’m not sure if Sinter will have time to visit all of the international students in Leiden and The Hague, but if you get a little gift in your shoe on the 5th December, you’ll know why!