Sinterklaas in the Netherlands is celebrated the 5th of December (and the 6th in Belgium) but because my sister-in-law Nikki was in Pakistan, we celebrated a bit later. There are a few differences between the Dutch Sinterklaas and the American Santa Clause. Although the Sint brings gifts to the “braaf” or good children, he is much more strict than my dear Santa. If you are bad, not only do you receive a “roe”, or a cane to be whipped with, but also you will be taken from your parents and home in Sinterklaas’ bag and brought back to Spain, where the Sint lives!
Also, Sinterklaas does not have elves to help him with the days up to Christmas, instead he has Zwarte Pieten, black companions that arrive with him on his steamboat from Spain to help distribute treats. Although originally black to represent the Moorish people who once occupied the Netherlands, they are now black because they are covered in soot from the chimneys! But as an American here, I don’t think I will ever get used to seeing so many people in black face with huge red lips, afros, and golden hoop earrings!
Sinterklaas always writes poems! First you read your poem, then you can open your gift. This takes longer than than my family’s tradition of opening presents from youngest to oldest, but it will make you laugh and it’s fun to guess what you’re about to open based on what you’ve just read.
My favorite tradition with Sinterklaas is a bit like Secret Santa, where everyone draws a name. But the fun part over here is that you package your gifts creatively, making a “surprise” (using the French word). You also get to write your own poem, from Sinterklaas to the recipient. The poems are always funny and a bit teasing. This is my third Sinterklaas now, and I think I’m getting the hang of it!
Before I show photos of our “surprises”, I want to begin with dinner! In the Netherlands and Belgium, “gourmetten” is a holiday tradition. “Gourmetten” is so much fun! On top of the table are small oven tops, so you can cook your own meat, vegetables, and potatoes. It’s so much fun to try to create your own recipes at the table!
There were two of the hot plates you see below, and one mini stove top with 6 burners for 6 mini-fry pans set across the table!
And of course delicious wines from Grand Vin!
And for dessert we ate “strooigoed en pepernoten” or literally “throw candy” and spice cookies, typically Sinterklaas.
Now for the surprises! First Nikki and Brigiet read a special poem from Sinterklaas for Bos, their supercute dachshund.
Barbara opened the first gift, from Koen. He made an MRI scanner out of plastic bottles! There was even a functioning light you could turn on when you placed the bed inside! If you look closely you’ll see that the patient is Barbara.
Now Barbara gave her surprise to…Brigiet! She made a giant Ikea that was then transformed into Brigiet and Nikki’s new apartment. It was complete with new furniture and doll versions of themselves to set up throughout the new place!
Brigiet gave her surprise to…Dook! Her poem and surprise teased Dook about being born in Bergen op Zoom, the rival city of Roosendaal with Carnaval. During Carnaval, the Dutch cities parade their mascots and the symbol of Bergen op Zoom is the crab! Dook is probably not too happy that all of you now know he wasn’t born in Roosendaal!
Dook gave his surprise to…Sofie! Because Sofie has just moved to Breda, she received a suitcase!
Sofie gave her surprise to…Nikki! Nikki is is always traveling, so Sofie made a globe out of papier-mâché! Within her poem, the Sint gave her clues about all the places she’s been recently and Nikki had to locate them on the globe!
Nikki gave her surprise to…Els! Els is a member of a women’s choir in Roosendaal that specializes in traditional Brabantse (province in the Netherlands) songs. In February Koen and I will be attending their 20 year anniversary concert! For Els’s surprise, Nikki made a puppet version of her!
And Els gave her surprise to…me! For me, Els made a giant Chanel red lipstick – my favorite! Inside was a new umbrella!
And I gave my surprise to…Koen! I was so excited to give it to him but I had to wait until the very end! I made Koen a Wii with 2 controllers. Inside the Wii was a new pair of boxer shorts and inside the controllers two special vinegars – strawberry and tomato. I hid his poem inside a special Wii game!
During presents we also ate a delicious chocolate Christmas cake!
I had a really great evening and am so thankful for my “schoonfamilie” or in-laws for sharing their traditions with me! It really is so much fun to create surprises and read poems! The rest of the evening we read more poetry from Sinterklaas and opened more traditionally wrapped gifts. I can’t wait for next year!