Remember when I said that "Sinterklaas was in Nederland aangekomen"? This past week he stopped by families all over the country to deliver some cadeautjes (presents) for the kinderen.
Sinterklaas is kind of like the Dutch Santa Claus, but not quite. Instead of the North Pole, every year he arrives by stoomboot (steamboat) in a different Dutch town. This year he arrived in Dochem, a town up north in Friesland. Along with his pieten, he visits every house and leaves small gifts in the everyone’s shoes up until December 5th, the day before his birthday. On December 5th, Sinterklaas and his Pieten visit the houses of all of the good children, knocking on the door and leaving the cadeautjes.
The period of time between when Sinterklaas arrives in the Netherlands and pakjesavond is full of fun songs, pepernoten ( a type of cookie reserved only for Sinterklaas), and chocoladeletters. I even got to meet Sinterklaas along with the other exchange students in my region.
Since Sinterklaas was on a Tuesday this year, my host family and I celebrated pakjesavond (gift night) on Saturday, Dec. 2 so that everyone could get together. After we sang some Sinterklaas songs, there was a really loud knocking on the door and Bram and Jason, my host cousins, raced to the door to find all of the cadeautjes. It was a really fun night of family being together and definitely reminded me of Christmas morning with my family back home. Out of all the gifts from Sinterklaas, my favorite were definitely my cow onesie, clogs, and socks. I swear the cows are cuter here! Next year you’ll definitely find me in my cow onesie during Homecoming Spirit Week. Watch out LFHS.
Along with a new holiday and new traditions, Sinterklaas also brought me the biggest culture shock of my exchange year yet. Even though it is a controversial topic, especially here in the Netherlands, I feel like it wouldn’t be fair to disregard it. If you have ever heard of Sinterklaas, especially in the United States, you have probably heard of Zwarte Pieten, or black peters; Sinterklaas’ helpers. In order to portray the Zwarte Pieten, people paint their faces black, don an afro, and slap on some bright red lipstick. To someone from outside of the Netherlands, this seems unthinkable. Here they consider it merely a part of their longstanding traditions. They do not see how it could be offensive since it has been a part of their traditions for so long but to me, it seemed like something that would create a huge moral argument in the United States. To me, it seemed like something that went against everything we have ever been told about race, especially in a country as seemingly progressive as this one. Since I am a buitenlander, it is not my intention or place to bash the Dutch culture in any way. After all, I’m here to learn about it. I merely think that it is important to talk about it since it is the biggest experience of culture shock I have had since arriving in the Netherlands and something that I personally feel strongly about.
The whole Sinterklaas season really kicked me into the holiday spirit and even though it does get hard with homesickness, discovering new traditions to take back to the United States makes it a lot easier. It’s something I will definitely be celebrating next year and hopefully for years to come. I'm definitely excited for Christmas now!
If you want to listen to some Sinterklaasliedjes, here are some of my favorites https://open.spotify.com/user/22vjetdrjh5ec725snht3q7ea/playlist/2j2jTPoF7FHEFMEIr9P0Ca
You can also learn more about Sinterklaas here: