So, you’ve been invited to a grown up party for Sinterklaas. What now?
Every culture has it’s own way of celebrating Christmas. But this isn’t really Christmas, is it? I have gotten a bit of grief for calling these posts “Christmas in the Netherlands” but I stand by the title. It’s the Christmas season. I thought about changing it so “Holidays in the Netherlands” but that is far to vague, there are a lot of holidays. So I’ll keep it Christmas for now, but I do want to clarify one thing. It’s the Sinterklaas celebration. If you have read my earlier posts about this time of year you know that the Dutch like to shake things up a bit. Don’t get lulled into a false sense of security because it’s an adult party during the Christmas holidays and you think you know what’s coming. I have made that mistake and there were a lot of very confused Dutch people around me.
So what are the basics?
Just like the kids do. If you give a gift the wrapping needs to be special and look like something else. Some examples from parties I have been to include: A giant box of packing peanuts with several very small gifts inside. A wrapped box inside a wrapped box inside a wrapped box that contained a present. I went to one of these Sinterklaas celebrations with my knit group and a present given to a woman (who was a rower) it was a hand made paper rowing machine with knit related presents in all the tube bits. It was amazing. But you get the idea.
You read that right. The Poem. You write a poem about the person you are giving a gift to. If you are giving multiple gifts then you better set aside some time because you are going to have to get really creative. Here is the kick, they are a bit mean. It’s like the closer you are to someone the meaner they get. For heavens sake don’t call Karen at the office fat, but it’s perfectly acceptable to make a little rhyme about how your brother didn’t do a very good job staying away from the sweets this year. Maybe it’s the Dutch bluntness coming through. Who knows. But it’s a thing.
I can’t really give you to many specifics because they are all different. If you are invited to a party and not specifically told that you are bringing a gift for a specific person, there is gonna be a party game. At least you off the hook about the poem and the surpise wrapping at this point, so that’s good. The games can get extraordinarily complicated and will differ from family to family or from group to group but they all amount to the same basic theme. Fighting over the best 3 presents. My family played a version of this on Christmas Eve every year so I’m used to the general concept but the Dutch tend to add in a lot of extra rules. And it will probably be in mostly Dutch so you are a at a disadvantage there as well. The easiest version is: everyone brings a gift. Then they pick a number written on a tiny piece of paper from a box. The person who picked the number 1 opens a present. The person who has picked the number 2 can either open an unwrapped present or take the present that the previous person has opened. If person number 2 takes the present from person number 1 then person number 1 opens a new present. It tends to get a bit dicey when person number 8 takes a present from person number 3, then person number 3 takes a present from person number 5…… WAITER, OH WAITER, YES PLEASE. ANOTHER MERLOT PLEASE! There is generally some kind of cap on it like a present can only be shifted 5 times until it is out of play. At my knit group parties we all brought 3 small gifts (under like 5 Euros each) but one had to be hand made.
The most complicated one I have experienced involved dice. One really, so die (although this word always feels wrong to me for some reason). There was a chart. Roll a one and you open a present. Roll a 2 and everyone moves one seat to the left (but the present stays behind and you inherit the person to the lefts present). Roll a 3 and you take someones present….. This sort of thing. It was fun and all but mostly I ended up with a headache trying to keep up with it all. It doesn’t help that it was in one of my Dutch classes so it was first thing in the morning and there was no booze.
Seriously, the point is to have fun so just go with it. I promise you will not be the only person confused. And there is great satisfaction in bringing the gift that is getting fought over.
This will also vary from party to party. Most of the celebrations I have attended have been is a cafe so you were free to order snacks. If it’s a large private gathering there will be snacks and soup. Soups. Whats with the soup? At every Dutch party I have ever been to I have been handed a bowl of tomato soup. (I asked about this and a Dutch friend literally said “tomato soup is a staple of Dutch cuisine” with, like the most serious look on her face. Like questioning the soup was the most ridiculous thing she had ever heard. Uuummmm. Hilarious) There will be bread and some bowls of vegetables. If things are really getting fancy there will be food on sticks. Everything tastes better on a stick, right? Some possibilities are bits of chicken with a peanut sauce or a tomato, basil and mozzarella combination. It varies a bit but generally it sticks to this theme. There is also a gourmet option. This is only for small (mainly family) gatherings. Basically it’s a hot plate in the middle of the table and everyone cooks their own food. I’ll get more descriptive about this in my next post about what happens after Sinterklaas leaves and we can get into a proper Christmas.
So there you go. Don’t forget the drinking. There will always be drinking. Don’t feel intimidated. If you are lucky enough to get invited to one of these then you will be with friends who will help you through. Just smile and remember that everything is meant to be fun, even if you have to read a poem about yourself that mentions your inability to tell jokes properly or the fact that you are never on time.
Have you read my other posts about Christmas in the Netherlands? NO?! GASP! It’s OK, I’ll link them here: Part one: Sinterklaas is coming to town
What’s next? You didn’t think we were done, did you? There is so much more! Next we get to talk about what happens after Sinterklaas gets on his boat and heads back to Spain with sacks and sacks full of naughty children he will enslave for the next year. I always try to end things on a positive note.
Wait… There is also New Years to talk about!
It’s official, the weather has turned nasty. Remember those bright sunny days when all you wanted to do is go outside? I know, I barley do as well, it feels like ages ago (when in fact it was like, what, last month?). This time of year I start looking for things to keep my kids entertained and off of screens as much as possible. Not that I worry about screens to much, after all every one needs some down time, but if I offer my kids something fun to do instead they will gladly turn of the TV so I try to have a few easy activities on hand.
My usual “go to” activities for cold and dreary afternoons are crafting but now that my son is learning to read in school I can branch out a little. He brings his work books home and shows me all the fun word puzzles and stories and (of course) they are all in Dutch.
I used to love cross word puzzles as a child and it looks like my son will be the same. Now to find a good English resource so I can join in the fun, as well as reinforce his English language skills.
Education.com is an amazing resource. It has pages and pages of free printables. Work sheets, coloring pages, cross word puzzles, math sheets, you name it and they have it. I’m fantasizing printing out some and making a “busy book” for each of my kids. I can put the sheets in page protectors and they can use a dry erase marker!! We could take it with us when we go out to eat and my kids would sit like such angels, busily learning while I actually get to have an adult chat. Other parents would look with envy at my amazing parenting skills!
Wow. That fantasy got away away from me there. Sorry about that.
But it is a fun idea.
They also have resources for teachers, like lesson plans and such. I actually got a bit excited about this. My son want’s to practice his reading at home but all of our books are, of course, in English. He gets really frustrated. I think it may be a good idea to start helping him along with his English reading skills at home a bit and Ehttps://www.education.com/resources/ela/reading/ would be a nice resource for that as well.
Here is a sample crossword puzzle. Cute, right?
The site is really easy to navigate. You fan filter your searches by grade, theme, or activity.
Check it out Education.com and you will be just as excited about it as I am!
I volunteered today to help take the kids in my daughters class to Museum T’Oude Slot today. A magical outing for the kids to do something special during school and I helped make that possible, what a good mom, right? Seriously, super mom. How do I find the time? The patience? I take such an active role in parenting that I even amaze myself. At least, that is how I feel when I sign up for these things. Then the day comes and I’m left thinking “What the hell was I thinking? When will I learn?” Because what will end up happening is that I stand awkwardly alone in the corner as none of the other parents talk to me. Maybe it’s the mohawk, maybe it’s because I’m foreign, who knows. But I keep signing up. I’m not that bright sometimes.
On this day though, I’m glad I did. I was still standing awkwardly in the corner not talking to anyone for most of the morning but it was nice to see my daughter have fun. Also, I’m glad I got to visit the Sinterklaas House in Veldhoven.
Damn this thing was organized. I was amazed. You see, every class in probably every school in Veldhoven is going to hit this spot in the next few weeks. Each class gets an hour. It was like: BAM! Lets sing some songs. BAM! You have 15 minutes to color a picture. BAM! lets spend a few minutes talking about the big book (like our naughty and nice list). BAM! This is where Sinterklaas sleeps………. It goes on like that. All with 2 super friendly Pieten interacting with the kids and making sure everyone is still smiling. I’m not gonna lie, it was overwhelming for me. Plus, all of the other parents there know all the kids names. How do the do that? When I want to scream at one of my kids at home I often have to run though the names of everyone living in the house before I finally get to the one that I am actually upset with. I sometimes get the dogs name mixed up with the kids! Anyways. It was really scheduled.
But it’s not always like that. Apparently this is just for the school groups. I got a chance to talk to a really lovely woman who works there while the kids were getting bundled up to go back to school and got the lowdown on what happens during normal visiting hours. When they aren’t herding school children around with military precision, it sounds like a pretty chill place.
Sinterklaashuis Veldhoven is open to the public, kids can wander and explore on their own. If you haven’t read any of my other blogs about this time of year (don’t feel sad, I’ll link them below), Sinterklaas comes to the Netherlands for a few weeks every year and has to sleep somewhere, right? It’s like a super special hotel full of magic and joy. I’m pretty sure there is one in just about every city, but don’t quote me on that.
T’Oude Slot is really nice. There is lots to see and do. There is a coloring and crafting room, and different rooms and buildings where Sint and his Pieten work while they are in town. Kids can explore his office and look at “the book”, his bedroom, the room where the Pieten sleep and do the wrapping and such.
There is also a small cafe where you can have a drink (adults actually get a free coffee or tea with their admission). They also have beer and wine! I love this country! Of course I was drinking tea. After all, I was driving. Other peoples kids. And it was like 10:30 in the morning. But you bet I noticed the beer and wine!
Opening times: This reads a bit funny (to me but I’ll bet it makes perfect sense to Dutch people) so I’ll break it down for you:
Despite the fact that I will be going twice with school trips (yes, I also signed up to take kids in my sons class. Once again… what the hell was I thinking) I think I will take the kids over the weekend. They have chocolate letter decorating!
It’s a cool place.
Some Helpful Info:
More Dutch Christmas excitement
And another Sinterklaas house:
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.
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
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 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.
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..
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!
Yesterday my kids and I went to a pumpkin patch in Best. I didn’t know what to expect, honestly. I have never been to a pumpkin patch in the Netherlands. In the US, Texas at least, visiting a pumpkin patch is a must do in the Fall. No Facebook timeline is complete without adorable pictures of your kids sitting on, leaning against or standing among pumpkins. To forgo this yearly tradition will probably get you kicked out of some club, I think.
But they are great. I have fond memories of hay rides pulled by tractors. Bouncy castles. I have an amazing picture of my son when he was around 1 year old sitting inside a sculpture of a pumpkin with the words “my first pumpkin patch ” written on it.
This was nothing like that.
It was a yard full of pumpkins.
I was really afraid my kids would be upset and bored but they actually had a great time. I’m constantly surprised by my kids. They can find fun in just about anything. As long as I stay positive, that is. I learned that a long time ago. The will follow my lead. It helped that there were some crazy looking pumpkins. I have never seen all these shapes! My kids ran around picking them up and giggling at all the shapes. It was great. I realized that it was a bit to early to carve pumpkins for Halloween but I do love some crafting! I told the kids that the could each pick out a pumpkin and we ended up with 11.
You read that right. But they are small ones. I’m not completely crazy!
I also got 2 for eating. One regular pumpkin for soups and such and one spaghetti squash.Yummy.
Pompoenerie Best does have a little cafe that sells drinks as well as homemade pumpkin soup and pie. We didn’t hang out though, so I can’t report back.
When we got home I busted out the paint and we went to work. It was great fun.
So, it wasn’t the pumpkin patch experience of my childhood but the people were super nice and helpful and it was a really fun outing. And the little pumpkins were super cheap! Al in all I spent something like 11 Euros.
What’s not to love? The kids got excited about a vegetable. They spent the afternoon being creative. I get to indulge in cooking so many delicious pumpkin recipes. And, I have adorable painted pumpkins on my table.
Some helpful information:
The fall break starts in 2 days for most kids in North Brabant. That means a whole week entertaining the kids. Luckily there is no shortage of activities and places to let them run off their energy.
Within the center of Eindhoven the Library is going to be your best bet. There is
something for the kids to do every day. We are particularly excited about Thursdays event. A meet and greet with Elsa and Anna but there are fun things to do throughout the week for all age groups.
A little further out in Wiltelre you can take the kids on a kabouter hunt! Kabouters are little gnome people that live in the forest. Bosschuur de Meren sets up a magical path through the woods with little houses and other evidence of their fun.
In Best you can take the kids to Pumpkin Days. I havent’t been yet but it’s on my list for the fall break. Apparently you can pick out pumpkins for decorating and cooking. There are crafts and workshops for the kids. Should be fun.
If you are looking to go a bit further out for a grand adventure the zoo in Amersfort is hosting special Dino Days during the break. I haven’t been but my son is slightly obsessed with dinosaurs so it caught my eye. We have year passes to Dierenrijk: Nuenen so it is really hard to justify spending money to go to another zoo but I may make an exception for this.
If I come across other special activities that look interesting I’ll add it in. Honestly there are probably loads. I saw that the Maritime Museum in Rotterdam had some special events on for the week and I assume that most of the “Kid Proof” museums will be doing something special.
There are also plenty of local options that aren’t specific for the break.
In Veldhoven there is our go-to indoor playplace Ballorig. Always a safe bet and easy to reach by public transport. Warning, though: I would always try to avoid Ballorig during holidays when my kids were super little because it would get so busy and I had trouble keeping up with them. Once they were able to really run on their own it got easier.
This is also a perfect time of the year to visit Zoo Veldhoven. The indoor play area gets really hot during the summer but right now will be perfect.
If you are looking to beyond the area there are LOADS of options. I’ll link a few of my favorites but my blog is full of them. And every break I try to go somewhere new, I’m thinking a water park. Now that my son is in swim lessons he is constantly asking to go swimming. Normally I take them to our sports club or the local pool Zwembad Den Ekkerman: Veldhoven but I’m thinking I would go a little fancy. Geesh, my kids are spoiled!!!
Enjoy the break. If you find any other fun things please share!!!
This particular morning was a bit of a shit show. Not a “scream at the kids because they won’t put shoes on, end up late for school and realize I’ve forgotten the backpacks” level shit show thankfully, though those mornings happen. Mostly the kids just required my full attention this morning. We were at school on time with no screaming from mommy, but I wasn’t able to do anything else I normally do. I came home from drop off to a disaster of a kitchen, night clothes scattering the floor and the contents of yesterdays backpack on the table.
I also had the very annoying realization that I had nothing ready for dinner and I would have no time to prepare anything. I had agreed to represent Eindhoven News at the Eindhoven Library on Thursdays so my day was full. I had a parent teacher conference after school and I spoke at a Braincandies event later. I had about an hour in between to get the kids settled and fed and make myself look presentable. So that left me with about an hour this morning to get things sorted.
I’m not going lie, I kinda panicked. My first thought was premade poffertjes. Fortunately, I realized that I had everything I needed to make my sons favorite soup. He calls it the “orange soup”, and for good reason. It’s sweet potato, carrot, red lentil. and some spices. I also put in onion, garlic and the juice of half a lemon.
I don’t usually measure soups out but this morning I made a bit more of an effort because I was planning on writing this.
Really, don’t overthink it. It’s going to be delicious.
I cut everything up and toss it in. Cover it with water. The amount of water takes some getting used to because if you don’t put in enough the vegetables will absorb it all and nothing will cook properly but if you add to much then it will be really thin and runny. My general rule is to add enough water to cover everything and then about an inch on top. If you have the opportunity to check in on it during the day you can always add more water if needed.
As for seasoning I like to use a curry powder. For some reason when I think red lentils curry powder goes with it naturally. No clue why, but it works. I also add cumin and coriander. Lots of salt. I don’t add to much of each because my son doesn’t like foods that taste of much. He generally likes things pretty bland. I always have extra salt and hot sauce on hand. I would say about 2 tablespoons of each to start.
So what does your delicious soup look like when you come home?
Well, if you are like me on this particularly hectic day it looks raw. I, apparently, forgot to turn it on.
Luckily it’s not meat so nothing in it will get gross sitting at room temperature all day. Also luckily, kinda, the kids had parties at school and were full of cupcake so they didn’t really want dinner anyways. Fruit for dinner!!!
So I turned on the crock pot before I left for my event. Double check, yes it’s on..
I came home and the house was starting to smell amazing. I let it cook on low though the night. My crock pot will automatically switch to a “warm” mode after the preset time is up and that’s super handy.
I woke up to some amazing soup.
I used my stick blender to make sure everything was nice and smooth.
My kids have a half day Friday so we had the soup for lunch. As expected, I needed to add some salt and hot sauce. You can also add extra seasoning at the end but put it in a little at a time and give it a moment and then put more in. As my chef mentor always said, you can always add but you can never subtract.
This soup is a staple at my house. My son doesn’t like soup “with bits in” so no chunky vegetable soup for us although sometimes he will eat chili. Plus these are ingredients that I have on hand and you don’t have to be worried about amounts of anything really. More carrots, more sweet potato, regular potatos that need to get used, whatever, toss it in. This literally takes me about 10 minutes to get ready. It’s going to cook all day and get blended later so you can leave everything in big chunks so it is super quick with little clean up. Week night dinner for the win!