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If you love laughing, eating sweets, and spending time with family, then Sinterklaas is for you. This is a holiday all about having fun. It is the perfect antidote to the stress of December holiday preparations and the over-excitement of children for Christmas.
Imagine if you got a pre-Christmas celebration in the beginning of December, just to take the edge off all the pressure. That is Sinterklaas.
Sinterklaas involves sweets, poems, and St. Nicholas. Officially it is the celebration of St. Nicholas day on December 6. But it is also the perfect balance to Christmas at the end of December and a wonderful, jovial way to get into the holiday season.
This brilliant holiday is celebrated in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Northern France. While each country has their unique traditions, the basic concept of celebrating on December 5 or 6 is the same. Clearly, they know what they are doing.
In the Netherlands, Saint Nicholas, along with his helpers, all referred to as Piet (the Dutch name for Peter) arrive the end of November. For the days following, St. Nicholas and Piet are seen around the towns and villages. They play pranks, hand out candy, smile for photos and generally make holiday shopping more jovial.
How Celebrating Sinterklaas Can Make Your December Better
Piet is a highly controversial, and seemingly racist figure, as he is always depicted with black face. I was hesitant to even mention him, for fear of scaring you from the joy of this holiday, but I am not representing the Dutch version of the holiday by leaving him out. Black Piet is deeply loved by the Dutch people. Black Piet runs through the streets of shopping centers, playing with children, handing out sweets, helping mothers with too much to carry or too much to do. He – or she – is always a lot of fun!
Now that you see how much fun Sinterklaas can be, here are the traditional steps to celebrate. Traditionally, children leave shoes by the chimney or back door to be filled with sweets. This is similar to stocking on Christmas. So again, it’s like a pre-celebration in the beginning of December.
Usually, each family member will also select or be assigned one person to buy a gift for. Think of this like the Dutch version of Secret Santa. But there is one unique twist: the gift is usually accompanied by a silly poem, and often poems are written for the whole family.
How to prepare for Sinterklaas
The week or so before Sinterklaas, have everyone in the family draw a name out of a hat. This is the person they will give a gift to, and write a poem about. Alternately, you can all write poems for everyone!
Everyone is a poet
In the Netherlands, everyone is considered a poet. You can’t try to get out of the poetry by claiming you can’t write. Everyone comes up with something. If you leave everyone laughing with you silly or ridiculous poetry, that is even better. Of course, genuine poetic talent is appreciated as well.
There are no excuses here. You have to write a poem! The poems are supposed to be funny and can be silly poems, so anything goes. The Dutch like to make fun of certain family characteristics in front of everyone with the poems, but I’d shy away from actually hitting a sore subject. You can be as silly as you want, which is part of the fun.
Children leave out shoes
For th children, the great excitement will come from the visit of St. Nicholas either on December 5 or 6 (depending on when you are celebrating). Explain that for this holiday, St. Nicholas rides on a white horse and delivers sweets to the children who were good throughout the year. Have the children leave out shoes for St. Nicholas to bring them sweets, and then go to bed with joyful anticipation like a mini Christmas celebration.
At breakfast or dinner of the day of St. Nicholas, while everyone is enjoying the extra sweets and listening to Christmas carols, exchange the small gifts and read out the poems. If you’ve all been creative, this will be a great bonding time and will definitely give you a good laugh.
Make it a group event
Sinterklaas can be a fun tradition to do with a large group of friends as well. Just invite everyone in advance, and assign each person one other person to bring for. You can also read out the poems anonymously and all try to guess who wrote them – and whom they are about!
Traditional sweets of Sinterklaas
If you want to celebrate Sinterklaas, it is good to have lots of sweets. Not a problem, right?! Traditionally, speculoos, a cinnamon cooking often shaped like a windmill, marzipan bread, and chocolate are served on Sinterklaas. You can include any other nice pastries to make a wonderfully abundant spread.
The Dutch are particularly fond of nutella and sprinkles on nice quality bread for breakfast, so if you really want to make the day authentic, you can let the kids have nutella-sprinkle bread on the morning of Sinterklaas.
Why your December is better with Sinterklaas
The anticipation and preparation for Sinterklaas is the perfect antidote to the busy holiday season of December. It is a light and joyful event, but also gives the children the opportunity to get small presents from St. Nicholas at the beginning of December, diffusing a bit of the built up excitement.
While Christmas is dedicated to a time of reverence and miracles, Sinterklaas is dedicated to pure joy and almost irreverent playfulness. It is a wonderful way to kick off your holiday season on a special note.
You can also use Sinterklaas as a theme to host a unique holiday party this year. Whatever you do, with the fun of Sinterklaas, your December will be more full of playfulness and joy, and less full of stress.
There is still time to plan to celebrate Sinterklaas this year. Remember, it’s not about perfect preparation, just pure fun!
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