Sinterklaas is coming to town!

Sinterklaas is coming to town!

17 November 2015 by Joyce Pepe
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Discover more about this Dutch celebration and be a part of it.

Exams are finally over, I have recharged myself by going home for a couple of days (in Italy) and I am back to get on track. I am so excited for the start of this block for some reason, it must be that the streets in Groningen are filling themselves up with Christmas lights and nice songs coming out of the stores. I personally have switched to the Christmas station a few days ago and am ready for Christmas to come. Many are already the invitations which I have received on Facebook for Sinterklaas and Christmas events, once again this beautiful city has found ways of making each one of these occasions that bit more special.

Many of you probably have not heard of Sinterklaas before, maybe you have but under other names: Saint Nicholas, in any case it’s not too hard to recognize him as he wears a really long beard and wears red clothes. Even though he looks a lot like Santa, they are actually very different. The celebration of Sinterklaas takes place throughout the month of November and ends with his birthday on the 5th of December. For some history related reasons Sinterklaas is said to come from Spain with his helpers, called ‘zwarte pieten’ or ‘knechten’, by boat. ‘Zwart’ refers to the color of their skin which is black and they have the role to punish the children who have been bad during the year and help Sinterklaas, who is a very old man, carry his gifts to the children in the Netherlands. When children have been very bad they are put in the helper’s large bag, in which they also keep sweets and gifts for the children who were good, and brought to Spain.

From the moment when Sinterklaas arrives in the Netherlands on his steam boat children can put their shoes in front of the fireplace or in front of the wood stove. The morning after a small gift or candy will be in the shoe, but only if the children have sang songs for him or put straw and a carrot in their shoe for the horse of Sinterklaas. The night of 5 December, also the day of his birthday, Sinterklaas goes from house to house and brings gifts to children, but today the tradition has changed a little and adults also exchange gifts.

Sinterklaas has always been very popular in the Netherlands, in the past years a TV show has even been produced displaying Sinterklaas from his arrival to his departure as well as his daily actions. 

Every family has their own traditions, it’s hard to find the same pattern everywhere. Some families do not celebrate Santa Claus and only exchange gifts on the 5/6 of December while other do both. Some families make the so called ‘surprises’ which means creating something, manually, which reflects the person you have picked from the secret pulling. A budget is usually fixed and with that small gifts, which are on the list of the person you have picked, are bought.

Sinterklaas is just a nice get together for family, children and friends. ‘Pakjesavond’, the night in which gifts are usually exchanged, is a fun time in which you often get to see people you have not see in a long time and stuff yourself with the typical Dutch candy, ‘pepernoten’ and chocolate.

Wouldn’t it be an idea for you and your friends to organize the same?

Groningen also has a lot to do during this period. On the 21st of November he will arrive in Groningen by boat. You can find more information about the event on or on I am aware it’s in Dutch, but google translate does miracles!

I was a 'zwarte piet' myself!