Naughty Dutch kids stuffed in bags and sent to Spain


Eunice Chan, Staff Writer

An old man in red with a long white beard is bringing presents to good children. People in bright outfits are happily prancing around. Presents are being exchanged. There are cookies, chocolate, and gingerbread men everywhere.

It’s Sinterklaas, or St. Nicholas’ Day, a Netherlands holiday celebrating Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas), the bishop of Turkey. Although the holiday is held on December 6th, the major festivals are on December 5th.

During late November, Sinterklaas, a tall gentleman who wears red and white bishop’s robes, arrives on a boat at the Netherlands from Spain, where he spends the rest of the year. Many people gather to watch his arrival, and even more are watching him on TV. He then rides around town on a white horse named Amerigo while his helpers, Zwarte Pieten, poke fun at bystanders and throw pepernote, small ginger biscuits, around. The rest of his stay is spent visiting streets, schools, and hospitals around the country until Sinterklaas.

When Sinterklaas finally arrives, there are a lot of celebrations, cookies, games, and gift-giving. Not just among the children, but among the adults too. At workplaces, or among adult family members, they’ll give surprises to each other. The surprise exchanges are similar to the Secret Santa tradition. The presents are often wrapped creatively, such as hidden in a bag of trash, and accompanied by a funny poem signed by Sinterklaas.

During Sinterklaas, children sing songs to Sinterklaas until they hear a knock on the door. If they’ve been good, then they’ll get a bag full of gifts. Later that day, some children may receive sinterklaasavond or pakjesavond, which are the names for presents during the evening.

Finally, at the end of the day, children put out their shoes next to the chimney or the back door, hoping to get little treats and gifts such as gingerbread men, or chocolate letters. At night, Sinterklaas will ride his horse over the roofs while the Zwarte Pieten go down and get carrots and hay left for the horse by the children. If the children were good, they would get presents, if they were bad, they would get whipped, if the children were really bad, they would be put in bags, and brought to Spain.

Finally, Dec. 6, and Sinterklaas is over, and the children return to their everyday life. Then comes Dec. 24, and the children are buzzing with excitement again. On Christmas Eve, Santa Claus (also called ‘Christmas Man’ to avoid confusion) will come from Lapland, Finland to deliver more presents!

The next day is Christmas Day, which consists of Church service and a family meal, and everything has pretty much calmed down by then.

The older children and teenagers get their main presents during Christmas, while the younger children and toddlers get their main presents during Sinterklaas.