Sinterklaas, also known as Sint Nicolaas, is an important holiday figure in the Netherlands, Aruba, Suriname, Netherlands Antilles and Belgium. This holiday is celebrated in the Netherlands on the evening of December 5 and in Belgium on the morning of December 6. The feast celebrates the name day of Saint Nicholas, patron saint of, among other things, children.
In the Netherlands, Sinterklaas starts in mid-November with his arrival on a steamboat from Spain. His assistant Zwarte Piet would toss treats into the crowd. Dutch goodies associated with Sinterklaas are 5-inch chocolate letters, speculaas (spice cookies made with a press), pepernoten (miniature spice cookies) and marzipan (made with almond paste).
As the story goes, Santa Claus was derived from Sinterklaas, but if you want to know more, click on the history of Sinterklaas.
Sinterklaas is an entirely different holiday from Christmas. In Belgium Santa Claus is called de Kerstman or le Père Noël and he comes around on Christmas day to bring children presents. (Lucky kids, they get presents twice in December!)
A typical Belgian Christmas breakfast includes a special sweet bread called ‘cougnou’ or ‘cougnolle’ – supposedly shaped to look like baby Jesus (similar to the German stollen!). Some families will have another big meal on Christmas day.
Christmas treats in the Netherlands include Kerststol (yes, stollen again), krentenbroojes (currant buns) with cheese for breakfast, and a nice family dinner with roasted goose or pork on the 25th. There used to be little or no gift-giving since that’s done on Sinterklaas, but this is becoming more common. The second day of Christmas (December 26th) is reserved to visit family and friends.
Oh, I remember growing up when Sinterklaasdag was still a holiday in Suriname. It is no longer celebrated since the Independence in 1975.
Sinterklaas was exciting (getting gifts) and scary (to get the whip if you had been bad) at the same time. I still have fond memories of how we used to gather at my grandmother’s house, sitting in the living room when suddenly pepernoten were tossed into the room. That was the clue that Sinterklaas had arrived.
Of course we never saw him, but he always left a big bag with gifts behind. And chocolate letters too! Ah traditions…