Celebrating Sinterklaas

I love the idea of Sinterklaas and that it is endemic in dutch life. It is literally everywhere and there is an annual national tv series about his visit here. It airs daily for the month or so leading up to his arrival and during his stay in the Netherlands. It includes a live arrival by steamboat (to a different location each year). Then pretty much very shop has something related to Sinterklaas in the window, and the supermarkets encourage children to leave a shoe there for Piet to leave a present in. This can either be a real shoe (these get saved up during the year so you have a spare to leave) or a paper shoe. The photo above shows the paper shoes we made this year for two of the local supermarkets. When we picked them up we got some window stickers and biscuits, respectively.

The children love singing Sinterklaas songs. I’m often serenaded by two different ones simultaneously. Though some of the songs convey things I’d rather my children didn’t know about yet! For example Piet is referred to as a “knecht” in one common song. Google translates this as (man)servant, menial, varlet or knave. This isn’t really a word I’d like my three year old to know. But she does. I try to only have more modern versions of the songs played in the house, but I can’t control what they learn at school.

I end up looking everywhere to see what colour the Piets are. I even counted how many of different colours there were in a bag of chocolate Piets we were given by a neighbour. (Or should I say that the children were given!) I just wish the racist side of it could be removed. Amsterdam has made all their Piets dirty, rather than blacked up. I will be waiting for the rest of the country to follow suit.

There has been change over the three years we’ve been here, but very slowly. In my post last year about Sinterklaas I included a photo from our local bakery of their display. Last year it included two Piets – 1 of colour and one dirty; this year it has only one of colour. Maybe it’s just a sign of the conservatism of the area we live in. Our town said though the majority of Piets in the town celebrations for Sinterklaas’ arrival would be blacked up there would be some “other” ones. I was very disappointed that all the ones I saw were blacked up.

So many people argue that it doesn’t mean anything as it’s just a children’s celebration. Yet this is how we teach children about their roles in society and what their expectations should be to aspire to. There are so many good things about Sinterklaas, and it brings so much joy to so many, that it’s a shame that it is tainted by this outdated modus operandi.

Tomorrow we celebrate pakjesavond and that’s the end of it for another year. Another year for the discussions to continue and tiny steps forward to be made.


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