Christmas in the Netherlands – Part 2: Celebrate Like a Dutch kid

So the Intocht has come and gone, what next? This is when things get interesting.

There are 2 things going on during this time of year:  one is for the kids and one is for adults. I’ll start with the kids, this is a long enough to require two different posts ( trust me, they both require a lot of explaining).

The shoe thing:

Children will put their shoes by the fire place / radiator / back door (depending on your house) with a gift for the horse. This can be sugar cubes, a bit of hay or a carrot. I generally just chuck a carrot in there because who has hay, right? The idea is that when Sinterklaas checks in the horse gets a treat and Sinterklaas leaves a small present in return. The present, and how often this happens depends on the family. I honestly don’t know any one who does this every night, once or twice a week tends to be the standard. I do it when I remember, honestly. As far as the little present goes, I keep is simple. Chuck a few pepernoten in there and you are good, especially for younger kids. Fun pencils, play-doe, a bit of chocolate, keep it small. The big bit is yet to come. It’s important to keep it round about shoe sized so that it can go in the shoe. There are some special songs apparently, that kids can sing as they are putting out the shoes, my son was never interested in such things but my daughter is learning Dutch Sinterklaas songs like a mofo so I have that to look forward to.

Special Events:

My kids begging for pepernoten

In most villages there will be some form of Piet House and / or a Sinterklaas house. A Piet House is just Piets. There are usually activities for kids on certain days. It’s a fun thing to check out. Last year at the Piet House in Veldhoven, they ushered us into a makeshift movie theater and we watched a short movie staring Sinterklaas and the Pieten. I’m not going to lie, I was pretty miserable but my kids really enjoyed it. The previous year is was more activity based and I hope they go back to that. I’ll be sure to let you know. 

The bigger deal is the Sinterklaas House. This is where Sinterklaas and his troupe sleep while they are in town. I’m pretty sure there is one in every village, but don’t hold me to that. If your kids are in school they generally go as a group though the school, so you’re off the hook. If not, I have only experienced the one in Nuenen but I’m going to try to check out at least one more this year. You can read about my experience in Nuenen here


Piet biked Sinterklaas to my sons former school

You really don’t need to go too far out of your way, honestly. You generally can’t throw a rock without hitting a Piet this time of year. Grocery stores, department stores, even my gym will have some kind of celebration. I can’t tell you how shocking it was to walk into my local shop and seeing all the check out people dressed up in full black face. Generally Sinterklaas will also visit the schools as well. For me it all gets a bit overwhelming honestly. I really tried to do everything one year and it was so exhausting that I didn’t enjoy it.  I’ve simplified things and I like it much more.

Lets talk candy:

Pepernoten

Pepernoten rules the holiday, but it’s a bit more complicated than it seems. What you are eating from the shop is technically kruidnoten. These are the crunchy little balls of goodness. Pepernoten are soft. Like tinny little cakes. The confusion exists because even Dutch people will call everything pepernoten. Even the packaging at the shop is often inaccurate. Dutch people don’t seen to mind, though. Don’t ask me why.

What happens on the 5th?

That is when Sinterklaas delivers the presents. Kids go to school as normal and at some point in the evening Pieten deliver the presents in a burlap sack. Of course the amount of presents depends on the family but considering it’s the main present holiday, Dutch people go big. I saw a neighbor bring in 3 huge burlap sacks full of boxes. I have always tried to keep small since Santa also comes to my house but I’m not sure how long that will last. I am afraid the when all the kids comparing their presents my kids may start to feel disappointing. If this happens I will have to put more emphasis on Dutch tradition and ease up on my American ones. After all, I don’t want them to have to much stuff!! Getting the presents inside can be a bit tricky. Generally I reach out and ring the doorbell then shut the door and let the kids answer it. There doesn’t have to be anyone there. Just tell them that it’s a super busy night and the Pieten can’t say hi to all the kids.  You can hire people to dress up like Piet and deliver the presents personally if you would like, also.

Pieten came to my house last year to deliver presents

Older Kids:

Around group 5 schools switch up up a bit (8 or 9 year olds). The dreaded Surprise gets thrown into the mix. It’s pronounced more like “surpeez”, by the way. This completely depends on the school, though. Most commonly the kids will draw names and get a small gift for another kid. Here is the trick: the packaging has to be special and the aim is to conceal even the shape of the present. Luckily I am not at this level yet because it feels like a lot of work that is going to end up being done by me.  Luckily at this age children are generally old enough to understand whats going on so they can (hopefully) explain things to you. I was told by a Dutch friend that the easiest and most common thing thing to do is to get crafty with a shoe box, turn it into a boat looking thing and hide the present inside. Good luck!

There are only three more things that you need to know..

  • The chocolate letter. This is an absolute requirement. Buy the first letter of everyone’s first name. Including adults. Buy them early because the more popular letters may sell out.
  • DON’T PUT UP YOUR CHRISTMAS TILL SINTERKLAAS IS SAILING BACK TO SPAIN. Well, you will seem very weird and your neighbors will gossip about you if you put it up too soon. I’m not going to lie I put mine up super early. The way I look at it is that I’m already a bit odd so why not just do what I want? It’s your damn house and your pretty sparkly tree!!!! But you will get looks if you tell a Dutchy.
  • It’s best not to voice to many opinions about Zwart Piet unless you want to get into a heated argument with a Dutch person. No matter how many times they try to get people to stop using black face and how the entire world is watching the Netherlands in horror this time of year they are clinging to the tradition.

My advise: don’t complicate things. If your child is in school you’re pretty covered and if they aren’t than they don’t know whats going on anyways.  Grab yourself an adult beverage and enjoy!

Christmas in the Netherlands – Part one: Sinterklaas is Comming to Town

Logan drew this for Sinterklass last year and delivered it to him in Nuenen!


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One Comment on “Christmas in the Netherlands – Part 2: Celebrate Like a Dutch kid

  1. Pingback: Museum T’Oude Slot: Sinterklaas House – Mommy on a Mission

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