It’s Sinterklaas Season and I’m Expecting!

300,000+ little Dutchies are expected to welcome Sinterklaas to A’dam on Sunday, November 18.

Who coulda guessed? A woman past 60 conceiving? But it’s not a fantasy, it’s true, folks. I’m expecting! Tomorrow! I know, I’m in shock, too. I can’t believe it! But as the calendar rolls into Sinterklass Season, I, along with thousands of little Dutchies, am expecting the arrival of Sinterklaas. And the gezelligheid of the year-end holidays in Amsterdam.

On November 18, St. Nicholas, aka Sinterklaas, will arrive in A’dam, ushering in the festive season. Arriving from Spain, his steamboat will cruise through the canals before docking by Central Station, across from Sint Nikolaaskerk, around 11:30. The 2012 fun will include performances in Dam Square by Sint’s Speciale ROC Swingband and the junior Jazz Orchestra of the Concertgebouw, conducted by Peter Guidi.

Bells will toll and children will scream as Burgemeester Harry Slinger welcomes the kindly saint before he trots off on his white horse for the parade down Damrak to Rembrandtplein. Accompanied by some 600 Zwarte Pieten (Black Pete) servants, brass bands, zany floats, merry jesters and cycling clowns, Sinterklaas will troop to Leidseplein, where he’ll address the cheering hordes from the Stadsschouwburg (city theater) balcony around 14:15.

Coming from Spain via steamboat, Sinterklaas and his Zwarte Piets will cruise through A’dams canals before docking near Central Station.

Sinterklaas Travels (and Does Good Deeds) 

Since anything goes when it comes to the kindren in Holland, Amsterdam’s annual Saint Nicholas parade is hugely popular. Celebrated since 1934 and televised live on national television since 1952, it attracts 300,000+ young Dutchies and is supported by the efforts of many municipal workers.

After hanging around the Dutch capital, Sinterklaas and his helpers will visit other Dutch cities, stopping by hospitals, schools, shops, restaurants and homes in the three-week run-up to December 5, Eve of St. Nicholas, when children receive presents in exchange for a year of goodness. Like America’s Santa Claus (a tradition introduced by the first Dutch settlers), Sint and his nimble Piets have curious and inquiring minds, which they use to assess kids’ behavior throughout the year and to spy on them through chimneys or, worse yet, modern technology!

Hoping they won’t be carted off to Spain for errant deeds or general mischief, kids leave carrots in their shoes to placate Sint’s horse and inspire his iconic rider to leave candy or a small gift. If they’ve been good, they’re likely to receive a short, funny poem about themselves from Sinterklaas.

Really? Not in America!

Could We Get Away With This in America? 

Picture a regal Caucasian gent swathed in red robes, wearing a bejeweled crown, toting bags filled with candy and gifts, assisted in his charitable duties by black servants. Back in the Middle Ages, a black servant symbolized the devil forced into obedience by Saint Nicholas. Sinking lower (if that were possible in Holland), Saint Nicholas’ companion was traditionally a devil-like person. Would this wash in America? I think not!

In Holland, bad feelings about the Zwarte Piet color controversy are explained with the story that Saint Nicholas’ servant boy has dark skin because he’s slithered down so many chimneys delivering gifts. Recently, harsher opponents have been placated by rainbow-colored Black Petes, which really, if you think about it, makes no sense at all. Except in Amsterdam!


  1. Excellent run-down on the rather bizarre history of the vagrant Bishop! I’ve always found it unusual that the reverend gentleman only appears in his home country briefly before returning to his adopted home in Spain. And what exactly happens to the naughty children he takes with him (my personal theory is that they reappear as unelected beaurocrats in Brussels many years later!)

    Perhaps, in these modern times, President Obama could fill the role in the States, with an entourage of poor “white trash” kids… Just thinking…!


  2. Actually, i have planed to get Netherlands to meet St. Nicholas and got gifts like a child at that time, but i missed for some reason, what a pity! In China, we don’t have so interesting festival, maybe i will come to here next year to join it:)


  3. This is something I unfortunately missed last year because my student exchange period ended just before December the 5th. I even attended a (couchsurfing) lecture about Sinterklaas and his helpers.


  4. wow… this is increadible… my first reaction is to laugh because it’s so rediculous, But then i feal a little offended. of course this would never fly in the United States, so I can’t understand why it is still tolerated there in Holland. I’m really curious now about how much diversity there is in holland, and i wonder how people will treat me.


  5. Perhaps 40 or 50 years ago this would have been acceptable in America. but,, No, at this time, this would never go in America, though, funny enough, I feel racism is more of a problem in America. America is just is more concerned with what is politically correct in the public eye..Perhaps a rainbow Sinterklaas may not be acceptable either, as that would portray gays, though it seems America still has a problem with LGBT issues.


  6. I came across “Black Pete” several times this week, including a reference in “The Office.” I was curious to see the perspective of Amsterdam dwellers on this matter as most articles speak of a controversy. One notable article, , covers the protesting perspective of a Ghanaian-Dutch citizen who grew up with comparisons between him and Zwarte Piet as racist slurs. Check out the article if you have some more time to read into the controversy!


  7. I first met Dutch people two years ago, and somehow this came up in conversation. We were a bit hungover from partying in Edinburg, and as the details continued, I couldn’t help thinking that their society needs some extra liberties(such as the legalization of marijuana and early drinking age) with stories like this being passed down from generation to generation! When they said that bad kids were taken to Spain, I thought, “that sounds like a nice vacation!”. And the black-faced Pete immediately struck out as a form of racism, but the two guys I was chatting with, Joost and Peter, were so sensitive to the topic of race as me, a white southerner who has been exposed to racism from an early age. It was uplifting and thrilling to think of a world where, although here may be some critics, most Dutch people just “live and let live”. It still brings a smile when I think of this conversation.


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