Every year on 5th December, the Dutch celebrate Sinterklaas. This is the most important occasion for giving gifts in the Netherlands. The tradition has many aspects which you probably only find in the Netherlands :-).
The origins of Sinterklaas go back to St. Nicholas, a bishop who lived in the city of Myra (in Turkey) in the fourth century. He died on 6th December 343 and he was a patron saint of children and sailors. St. Nicholas was known for his generosity and giving away coins. Since the thirteenth century the tradition of St. Nicholas is celebrated in many European countries in several different ways.
The modern version of Sinterklaas, the way it is celebrated in the Netherlands today, derives from the nineteenth century. In 1850, a school teacher wrote a children´s book in which Sinterklaas arrives in the Netherlands with a steamship, rides his horse on the roofs and puts presents in the chimney. Nowadays these elements are still part of the tradition, although Sinterklaas does not really ride on the roofs. But he does arrive with ´his´ steamship in the Netherlands. This event is called Sinterklaasintocht and always takes place in the middle of November. The entry is broadcasted live on television. Sinterklaas arrives from Spain (according to the tradition) with his steamship Pakjesboot 12 (Present boat 12) full of gifts for all Dutch children and in the company of his assistants, de Zwarte Pieten (Black Peter).
Since there are many Dutch cities with harbours, Sinterklaas always finds a place to go on land. The whole event is organized by the Dutch public television and takes place on a Saturday so that all children (and grown-ups 😉 ) have time to watch it. When the ship has arrived, Sinterklaas does a tour through the town on his white horse. During the tour the Zwarte Pieten hand out typical sweets to the children. The tour ends on the local city square where Sinterklaas is welcomed by the major. After the entry, he is officially in the Netherlands and you can see him everywhere. In many other cities Sinterklaas arrives as well, played by different actors. The ´official´ Sinterklaas known from the national entry, and for most people the one and only, has been played by the same Dutch actor for over twenty years now.
In the weeks between the entry and the 5th of December Sinterklaas visits schools, companies and city centers. Compared to his entry, his leave is always very quiet. After 5th December, Sinterklaas just disappears, but most children do not really realize that, because they are just way to busy playing with their new gifts…
Next week you will read about the most important customs around Sinterklaas.