Christmas in The Netherlands – Part One: Sinterklaas is coming to town!!

Christmas is a magical time of year all over the world. As an American I kinda took for granted that everyone celebrated Christmas in much the same way. You know, big fat guy, the 25th of december, dead tree in the living room….  The look of said fat guy and what your family typically eats on the day changes but everything else remains basically the same. Right?

Wrong. And it was a shock to my system to say the least! The Dutch spice it up in a BIG way! Pretty much it’s completely different, COMPLETELY different from the traditions I grew up with. This is certainly not a bad thing, don’t get me wrong.  Once you understand what going on it’s really great.

Here is a brief overview:

  • Sinterklaas (Saint Nicolaas) is a tall skinny old man who dresses like the pope.
  • He lives in Spain (I personally would prefer Spain to the North Pole).
  • His helpers are called Zwarte Piet (singular) or zwarte pieten (plural). They have black faces because they go up and down chimneys and get covered in soot (That’s their story, at least, and they are sticking to it). Every year there is a huge controversy about Piet. From what I understand the story said they were slaves that were freed by Sint and chose to stay and work for him. The story changes every year and every year Piet gets a little more politically correct. Honestly I think they could do with a bit of a face lift but the reality is that they are loved by children and that’s all that matters. Pieten are happy, silly, dancing men and women who spread joy. This is good enough for me (though I won’t be dressing my kids up in black face any time soon).  They are trained to do different jobs, one is in charge of inventing toys, gift wrapping, navigation, ect.
  • Sinterklaas and his Piet come to The Netherlands by steam boat (named Pakjesboot 12) mid November. This is called the Intocht (arrival).
  • They will live here until December 6. Sint uses this time to visit children and review his lists.
  • During this time Sint goes from house to house checking in on all the children making sure they are being good.
  • He travels by horse while in the Netherlands. The horse is named Amerigo.
  • It is customary for children to leave Amerigo a carrot, some hay or a sugar cube in their shoe before bed. The shoe is then placed by the fire place or the radiator. In return the children find a small present or some candy in their shoe the next morning.
  • Presents are delivered on December 5 in a burlap sack.
  • A few things can happen if the child has been naughty (I suppose it depends on how much the parents want to frighten their kids). They may get no presents, they may be abducted and taken to Spain where they are forced to work for the next year as punishment, or they may be placed in the burlap sack and beaten with sticks by Piet (all very good incentives to behave).
  • A chocolate letter is a customary gift from Sinterklass. The letter being the first letter of the person’s first name. Even adults get this one. Yummy!!

This year Intocht was on Saturday, November 14. My family and I went to our local city center to see Sinterklass arrive and help celebrate. The children dress up as either Sint or Piet and there is singing and dancing and a general festive atmosphere.

Sinter Klaas
This is Sinterklaas

Zwarte Piet

IMG_9918 IMG_9938These are a few of the Zwarte Pieten. They hand out tiny spiced cookies called kruidnoten to the kids.

This is my son and his friends begging for kruidnoten
This is my son and his friends begging for kruidnoten
This is my 14 month old daughter begging for kruidnoten
This is my 14 month old daughter begging for kruidnoten

My daughter is dressed up like Piet and my son is wearing a cape like Sint. This is the best I could manage with my two strong willed children.

I have come to really love the Sinterklaas season. There are so many activities for the kids during this time. For the kids of the Netherlands, Sint and Piet are real tangible people who they can meet and touch and interact with all season as opposed to a mystical being that sits around at the malls.  I love it.

Whats next?

Christmas in the Netherlands – Part 2: Celebrating Sinterklass like a Dutchie

Stay tuned!

About Me

My name is Melissa and I’m a mother of 2 living in The Netherlands. I moved here from Texas 10 years ago and I love the life I am building here.

A lot changed when I had my fist child (a son who will be 6 very soon). I had the opportunity to decide how I wanted to parent. That probably seems like an odd thing to say. You are probably reading this thinking “well, duh. Every parent does.” But I don’t think that many actually do. I think many people do roughly the same thing their parents did. Of course there are updates with every generation (spanking was perfectly acceptable when I was growing up) but by and large I think we carry the same traditions and cultural norms. When I moved halfway across the world I didn’t have kids, I got to travel and sleep till 12:00 and knit all day if I wanted. I led a pretty charmed life actually. And then I decided to try and get pregnant and everything changed. I had the very unique opportunity to get to decide who I wanted to be as a mom. I got to decide to show my future child (fingers crossed) what my priorities in life are. Then I got to really sit down and think about them.

What do I want for my kids? What type of person do I want them to grow in to. I asked myself if I was showing them those behaviors so emulate.
I wasn’t.

I led a sedentary lifestyle. I ate horribly and I didn’t exercise. I didn’t cook. I wasn’t active in the community. That’s totally cool, but not what I wanted. So I started running. I started cooking. And surprise, I really loved it. 5 years on and I work out, I cook, I knit, I’m full on healthy mom. Things changed a bit with my second. I’m a bit more calm. A bit more boozy. A bit more “bugger off and play so I can have some grown up talk” but I love it. I try to be accepting of the fact that I am imperfect and that makes me a good mom. I embrace the fact that although my kids are the light of my life I need some time away as well. I embrace the fact that sometimes we need to order pizza and watch a movie on a Sunday afternoon. I embrace real life.

So that’s my life now. I’m a bit of a gym rat, I love to cook healthy mostly vegan food, I’m full on Pinterest crazy. But I also drink martinis and red wine.

Life is awesome.


My journey

My husband and I decided to move half way across the world over the course of a 30 minute television program ( I think it was a rerun of Sienfeld). He no longer had a job in Dallas so we were going to have to move so he could stay with the company he was working for. The company is based out of Veldhoven and we decided that if we were going to have to move we should move somewhere completely different. The plan was to stay for 2 years and travel Europe for a while; this was 8 years ago.
We both fell in love with The Netherlands. The culture, the community, the atmosphere, everything about it was calm and serene. At that time I was heavily overweight and extremely unhealthy.  The biking culture forced me to be more active and the lack of take away’s forced me to cook so I immediately started to loose weight.

Several years later we decided to have our first child. At this point I became incredibly conscious about what I was putting into my body. I decided to get healthy so that I could provide the best for my son. 4 years later I’m fit, active, thin, and healthy without stress, gyms and dieting. I realized that food is fuel for a healthy body. This incredibly simple idea changed the way I shopped, ate and cooked.

Now that I have had my second child the stress and pressure to be super mom nearly killed me. I couldn’t seem to handle all of the art projects, crafting, cooking, baking and fun with the kids that I wanted to do and still do all the things that I had to do so that the house wouldn’t fall apart around me.

This is where Mommy on a Mission was born.

I am determined to take control of my life and find simple, sustainable ways to keep everything organized so I could focus my energy on having fun with my kids.

In this blog I hope to share some of the ways I have found to stay active, organized and healthy. I hope to share some of the tricks I have picked up along the way so we can bring fun back into our lives!