He might be an old man with a flowing white beard and a long red cape but The Netherland’s Sinterklaas is a little different to the Coca-Cola-type Santa Claus we all know. For starters, he comes from Spain! This is probably due to the Low Countries long ago domination by Spain and it means there is no tradition of snow and reindeer and sleighs. Instead, Sinterklaas arrives by boat from Spain, coming up the Amstel River in mid-November, this year on Sunday 13th November.
He’s due to arrive at the Scheepvaartmuseum (Maritime Museum) around midday to be welcomed by the Mayor of Amsterdam, then he’ll ride around the city on a white horse accompanied by his helpers, the Zwarte Pieten (Black Petes) whose sooty faces show the amount of time they spend in chimneys bringing gifts to good children and coal to those who have been naughty. Around 2pm, he’ll be in the city’s main square, Dam, and later in Leidseplein to deliver a speech to all his followers. The next few weeks he can be found around the city, spreading goodwill in schools and shops in the lead-up to December 5th, Sinterklaasavond.
This is the night when his helpers head into the chimneys and fill the shoes children have left out in the hope of being rewarded with marzipan and chocolate and poems. In return they leave carrots for his horses and a glass of milk or perhaps wine if they really want to be in his good books. As Sinterklaas heads back to Spain, all over The Netherlands households awake to gingerbread, hot chocolate and poetry reading. Or coal – but hopefully that’s more of a threat than a reality.