Readers outside the Netherlands may not be familiar with the celebration of Sinterklaas, which takes place on the feast day of St. Nicholas. Sinterklaas is much like Santa Claus or Father Christmas, except that he arrives before Christmas! Sinterklaas sails into Amsterdam in mid-November by steamboat from Spain, with a book listing the names of all the children who have been good. On the 5th of December, he leaves gifts and poems for all the children, and families celebrate with lots of sweets like spekulaas, pepernoten, marzipan and chocolates.
While the celebration is largely for children, some adults still get into the Sinterklaas spirit, including my own Dutch husband. So in addition to the celebration at his parents’ home for all the grandchildren, Sinterklaas visited the two of us at our home and left a few gifts and a nice spread of sweets and treats and champagne. Good ol’ Sint!
And Sinterklaas knew that I was a newbie, so I received two books “Alles Wat Je Wilt Weten over Sinterklaas” (All You Want to Know about Sinterklaas) and “Sinterklaasliedjes” (Sinterklaas Songs) which came with a CD, so that I’m able to participate in the singing next year.
And now that the Sinterklaas celebration is over, we can finally put up our Christmas tree. I’ve always enjoyed putting up the tree right after Thanksgiving, so that we have more time to enjoy it. But in the Netherlands, it’s apparently a big faux pas to put up your tree before Sinterklaas, and in fact, I saw no Christmas trees for sale at all. On December 6th, Amsterdam was filled with Christmas trees. It’s quite festive here, with lots of Christmas decorations everywhere and the canals are especially beautiful with all the twinkling lights.