All you need to know about Sinterklaas

You have probably realized by now that Sinterklaas is a huge deal in the Netherlands. For the Dutch, it’s not just another holiday or a silly story you tell your children, it is the most important Dutch celebration of the year.

Sinterklaas and important dates

Sinterklaas or Saint Nicolas arrives to the Netherlands in the middle of November, but his birthday is celebrated on the 5th of December. He arrives on a steamboat that came all the way from Spain because that is where he lives.

Typical features of Sinterklaas?

He arrives on a grey horse, wearing red robe. You can also recognize him by his golden staff, a miter and a beard. He also has a book, Boek van Sinterklaaas, which contains all the information about the children and how well they behaved during the year.

Useful words:

  • Intocht- the arrival of Sinterklaas
  • Stoomboot- steamboat
  • Schimmel- grey horse, but also means fungus
  • tabberd- red robe

The tradition

During the three weeks he is in the country he rides on his horse on the rooftops of the houses. Throughout these three weeks, the children put their shoes once or twice a week close to the fireplace. In the shoe, they put a treat for the horse, like a carrot or a sugar cube. During the night, Zwarte Piet climbs down the chimney, takes the present for the horse and leaves the present for the children in the shoe.

He brings presents to children that were good. Bad kids are thrown in a bag and taken to Spain, where they make soap out of them.


Zwarte Piet does not only leave presents for the children, he may also leave some of the traditional sweets.

-chocolate letters (usually the first letter of the name of the child)
-speculaas- biscuit
-banket letter-pastry crust with a sugar almond paste in the middle
-taaitaai- biscuit
-borstplaat- mainly sugar

Each child needs to appear in front of the Sinterklaas or sit on his knee while he is reading from his book. He reads the short summary of how the child behaved during the year. Usually he asks to sing a song about him. And Dutch have a lot of songs about Sinterklaas.

5th December for the children

Called Pakjesavond, usually there is a loud knock on the door or in some cases pepernoten are bing randomly thrown in the room, and when you open the doors, there are presents in front of them.

Sinterklaas for the older?

Similar to Secret Santa, people you choose to celebrate with write names on papers and then randomly pick the names from the bag. The person you choose is the person that you must gift. But, you must also write a short Sinterklaasgedicht, which is a special Sinterklaas poem to the person.

Sinterklaas facts

-Sinterklaas is based on the Saint Nicholas of Myra

-He is the patron of the children because the legend says he once brought back to life three children that were murdered

-He is also the patron of sailors and fishermen because of the legend when he helped a boat out of storm

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