Today Sinterklaas arrived in Groningen! The long trip from Spain to the Netherlands, with the ‘pakjesboot’ (presents boat), finally came to an end for Sinterklaas when he and the ‘Zwarte Pieten’ (Black Pete’s) arrived in Groningen. He was welcomed by many people, especially families with young children -and a 24 years old lonely student-, who were waiting on the quays to catch a glimpse of Sinterklaas, who was entering Groningen via the canals.
The Netherlands' most popular cultural tradition is probably the feast of ‘Sinterklaas’. Every year Sinterklaas travels, accompanied by his companions (Black Pete), from Spain to the Netherlands. They will stay until Sinterklaas-evening, which is on the fifth of December. On this day all the children who have been good get presents. However, rumour has it that if you haven’t behaved properly, Black Pete will abduct you and take you back to Spain. I can’t confirm if this rumour is true, for I’ve always been a proper boy that never misbehaved in his life. Ahum.
The feast of Sinterklaas is more than just Sinterklaas-evening, from the moment that he sets foot in our cold country, he and his helpers bring presents to all the children. On the back of his horse Amerigo, he coordinates his Black Pete’s to slide down all the chimneys and put (small) presents in the shoes of the children. It is tradition that the children put their shoes in front of the chimney and sing a little song or put something in their shoe for Sinterklaas or his horse, like a carrot for Amerigo. When they wake up they’ll find that Black Pete has left them a present.
Black Pete has been the subject of a nation-wide debate, there are people who think Black Pete is racism, because Black Pete looks like a stereotypical black slave. To the majority of the Dutch population, however, Black Pete is an essential part of our heritage and identity. The ensuing controversy can be understood as a matter of heritage narratives conflicting. No one really knows the origin of Black Pete. In some stories the figure of Black Pete used to be a demon, in others he is Odin or a slave that even has chains around his feet. Maybe, for the sake of stopping this perpetual discussion, we should just make him a really scary demon again.
The Sinterklaas tradition is deeply rooted in Dutch society, it’s not just a feast for children. Many families or group of friends, who have outgrown the illusion that Sinterklaas is real, still celebrate Sinterklaas. -The moment I discovered Sinterklaas isn’t real was when I moved to Groningen to study, when in my first year I put my shoe near the chimney and sang a beautiful song, only to wake up to the sad sight of an empty shoe. Thanks mom.- The way Sinterklaas is celebrated is comparable to the ‘secret Santa’ concept in the United States. You draw straws with your friends and for the person that you get you write a poem, and make a little surprise thingy to conceal your present in. The poems are always good fun when you celebrate Sinterklaas with friends, because Sinterklaas knows everything from his Pete’s, so these poems are often used as a platform to list the ‘naughty’ things your friend did in the past year. However Sinterklaas is a friend to everyone and you should also be a little bit nice to your friend, or just embarrass them in a fun way.
So unless you want to get a spanking from Black Pete or be abducted to Spain, you should really follow my example in leading an exemplary life with lots of studying and no parties!
Happy Sinterklaas to all of you!