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Sinterklaas. A boat arriving from Madrid?

I’ve never heard about the Dutch tradition of Sinterklaas, since not long ago. It’s funny and charming, also pretty controversial. For many years, every December 5th a Dutch friend of mine gathers us at her place to celebrate it; she explains where the tradition comes from, we sing the Dutch traditional songs the best we can and eat the typical sweets from these dates.

There is no doubt that this is the most anticipated day in the year for the Dutch kids because, as night arrives, Zwarte Piet (Peter) will get down the chimney to deliver presents if they behaved well. Before that, they must leave a shoe, a carrot for the white horse named Amerigo and a drawing that shows how well they have behaved.

This is when the mess starts. First of all, according to the tale, Sinterklaas comes from Madrid by boat… “Wait, what?! This makes no sense. From Madrid to Amsterdam, by boat? What the hell?”

The tale says Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas) comes originally from Turkey and once he died, the remains were taken to Bari, in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, where Charles V would be the king. Once Philip II became his successor in the Kingdom, which covered the Low Countries, Spain and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, the story was taken to Spain, specifically Madrid, as the starter of the trip, to make it simpler.

“¿Don’t you think Peter, the ‘assistant’ as a black person is a bit racist?” Apparently, many controversial voices argued that ‘Zwarte Piet is racisme’, which means that Peter, Sinterklaas assistant, being a black person was racist. After that, Peter’s color have changed annually, from blue to red to yellow. Other people argue that Peter is black because of the pollution in the chimneys. Both options set great debates in the Netherlands.

Finally, my friend says that when they’re kids and they behaved wrongly, the tradition was to say "Sinterklaas will take you to Madrid.” I was like “Whatever. What kind of punishment is that?”

Sinterklaas in the Netherlands

It’s clear that Sint’s arrival to the Netherlands is a great event, with many parades previously. On December 5th, at night, families gather at home to sing, read poems and make little presents.

Every year, a Dutch city is chosen to broadcast the Sinterklaas parade on national television, an event followed my many people. This year, the chosen city is Gouda, by the north of Rotterdam, known as the origin of a world-famous cheese.

But Amsterdam is the city with the greatest Sinterklaas parade. He arrives by boat along the Amstel river and to the Maritime Museum, where is received by the Major of the city on Sunday, November 16th. With him, great amounts of cookies to deliver to kids and many different Peters to assist him, like Book Peter, who takes a big book with notes of what all the kids want, there is also absent-minded Peter, Peter the acrobat or Gifts Peter.

Sinterklaas sweets

These delicious cookies that Sint brings are called pepernoten, what means spiced walnuts. They are small and have a very intense caramel and ginger flavour. There is also the to speculaas, with Christmas or Sinterklaas related pictures and made of many spiced and cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, cardamom and white pepper.

Other typical sweets from Sinterklaas are chocolade letter, big letters made of chocolate that are usually gifted with the initial capital letter of your name, or schuimpjes, with funny forms and colours.

Pictures Sinterklaas by MarkDB and Michell Zappa

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