An early holiday season
‘Sweet, Santa Clause comes early in Holland’ might have been on the minds of international students, as an old man in red clothes with a long white beard visited the country. But, wait a minute; this man has a pointy hat, a cape and a golden staff. So if it’s not Santa Clause...then who is it!?
Here’s a quick update: he’s called Sinterklaas, is originally a catholic bishop from what is now Turkey, lives in Spain, visits the country by boat, rides a gray/white horse, has a lot of helpers called Zwarte Pieten (Black Peters) and gives presents to children on the 5th December. Does that clear things up for you? We hope so, because going in depth on the history of this tradition might get you dizzy with information. It’s better to know its outward appearance.
Mid-November his arrival is broadcasted on national television and quickly after the entire country joins in the celebrations. In Groningen many stores have decorations in their windows such as bags of presents and Sinterklaas songs are played on the speakers. These are instantly recognizable for Dutchmen, creating this special Sinterklaas feeling and a cheerful atmosphere throughout the city.
People give each other presents on the 5th December accompanied by a short rhyming verse. International students don’t have to feel left out, because it’s a very accessible tradition. Many international students in Groningen celebrate Sinterklaas with their new found foreign friends, often giving it their own twist. The present trading game is a very popular variation, since you don’t know which present you’ll take home at the end of the night until the last player rolls the dice. ESN, the international student association, even dedicated a whole evening program to this holiday.
As with all good holidays delicious food has to accompany the celebrations. With Sinterklaas people traditionally eat pepernoten and chocolate letters of which the latter is usually a gift. (Example: you would give us the G of GroningenLife!) The stores are full with these and others such as marzipan, almond pastry and meringues. Indeed, it’s a sweet tradition.
Know the feeling early December that the semester is about to end, but Christmas and New Year still feel so far away? Come to Groningen and celebrate Sinterklaas with us. That will give you a boost for the last weeks of the year! (Or at least a sugar rush)
By: Ido Venhuizen