Destinations Magazine


By Amsterdam City Tours
English: Two children dressed up as 'zwarte pi...

English: Two children dressed up as 'zwarte pieten' (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is the celebration where children are transformed into Kings and Queens and honored as the bringers of the light at the darkest time of year.

Saint Nicholas has had close ties with Amsterdam since 343 AD. Legend has it that Sinterklaas originally came from Turkey as St. Nicolaus, the Bishop of Mira, an honourable man who was kind to children. No one really knows why he then chose to live in Spain but historians point to the Spanish domination over the Netherlands in the past.

The medieval attire of Sinterklaas’ assistants, the Zwarte Pieten, is equally mysterious, leading one to conclude that they must have been stuck in chimneys for an awfully long time. Hence the sooty faces and time-warped costumes.

How this kindly 4th century bishop made his way from Asia Minor through Italy, Spain and all of Northern Europe century is unknown, but by in the 11th century he had become the patron saint not only of children and unwed maidens, but of sailors and the City of Amsterdam as well. 

In Amsterdam, on December 5th a ship carrying Sinterklaas arrives by boat from Spain where he spends the rest of the year. The white-bearded legend traditionally makes his spectacular entrance into the city by sailing down the Amstel River and following a route through the city past the Nieuwe Amstelbrug, Torontobrug, the Hoge Sluis by the Royal Theatre Carré and the Magere Brug. The waterborne parade ends at the Scheepvaartmuseum (Maritime Museum) where Sint is welcomed by the Mayor of Amsterdam. He is greeted by a whole group of Grumpuses. He's always accompanied by his band of merry helpers, the Zwarte Pieten, who throw cookies and candy to the thousands of onlookers. A million people come out to see his arrival and watch his triumphant parade through the streets of the city. The rest of the country watches on TV. Special songs and pastries are made in honor of his arrival.

Portrait of Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet.

Portrait of Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since St. Nicholas loved children so much, it makes sense on his name day those children are turned into the most powerful for just one day.

Once Sint is in town, children lay out their shoes before bedtime, along with water (or wine) and a carrot for the horse, in the hopes that there will be a gift left there by morning. The very good kids are usually rewarded with chocolate letters and marzipan while the naughty anxiously wait to see if they’ve been given coal, again. Children are crowned kings and queens! Hundreds of beautiful branches will be laid out alongside lots of beautiful, glittery, and fanciful materials—jewels, ribbons, glitter, lace, streamers—with which the children can create their royal garb! At the end of the day each child has a scepter to carry in the Parades and to take home. Each child will be asked to tie 3 WISHES onto their branch—one for family, for community and for the World.

Following his late-night visit, much like at Christmas, everyone unwraps their presents from Sinterklaas and reads aloud the poems that have been written especially for each recipient. The author of these light-hearted poems remains anonymous. The day ends with songs and a nap-inducing feast, with treats like marzipan, chocolate letters, pepernoten (spice biscuits) and hot chocolate with whipped cream.

Sources| iamsterdam, sinterklaashudsonvalley

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