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It’s not just young children that enjoy Sinterklaas in the Netherlands – adults celebrate with equal enthusiasm and particularly look forward to the Sinterklaas party known as ‘surpriseavond’ (surprise evening). Surpriseavond is a Sinterklaas party for friends, family or work colleagues, traditionally held on the evening of 5th December. Prior to the party, those invited pull names from a hat in order to determine the person for whom they must choose a small gift and write a special ‘Sinterklaasgedicht’ or Sinterklaas poem. The present is generally inexpensive and it is the Sinterklaasgedicht (which is read out loud by the recipient) that is considered the highlight of the evening.
The task of writing an engaging Sinterklaas poem might sound relatively straightforward, but if you want to create something memorable, then you’ll need to put some thought into it. So, if you’re about to attend your very first Surpriseavond and are struggling to put pen to paper, here are five top tips on how to write the perfect ditty.
1. Personalise your Sinterklaas poem
Those that lack imagination often begin their Sinterklaas poem with: “Sint zat te denken, wat hij jou zou gaan schenken”, which means something along the lines of “the Sint was thinking about what present he could give you” and is regarded as a bit of a cop out. If you want to avoid this lacklustre cliché and prevent your poem from winding up in the rubbish bin along with the mountains of discarded wrapping paper, then you’ll need to come up with something much more original. One way to craft a unique poem that the recipient will never forget is to make it highly personal. Think carefully about the person for whom the poem is intended and highlight their individual qualities using a few well-chosen adjectives, or perhaps write about some shared experiences to make it altogether more intimate.
2. Make it rhyme
A Sinterklaas poem typically consists of one or more stanzas, each containing four lines using different forms of rhyme. The most popular format is AABB, where the last word of the first and second sentence and the last word of the third and fourth sentences, rhyme. There are also a number of other rhyming arrangements including ABBA and ABCB and a Sinterklaas poem tends to read better, when the sentences employ a little rhythm, just like in a song. Don’t worry if you can’t quite master the art of rhyme though – your poem doesn’t need to be a literary masterpiece and the emphasis is firmly on fun!
3. Use the help tools available
There’s nothing worse than sitting down to begin your Sinterklaas poem, only to discover that you have a severe case of writers block. If you’re finding it difficult to come up with a suitable rhyme, there are plenty of handy rhyming dictionaries available on the Internet that can help. You’ll even find samples of Sinterklaas poems that you can turn to for inspiration. If you’re well and truly stuck, you could always resort to an online “poem generator”, although you should try to avoid copying these ready-made Sinterklaas poems word for word, otherwise you might end up with verse that lacks intimacy and comes across as contrived.
4. Inject some humour
The best Sinterklaas poems include witty puns, personal anecdotes and humorous observations about the recipient. A little (good-natured) teasing is always well received, providing that you don’t go too far and risk spoiling what’s meant to be a fun and pleasant evening! If you don’t know the person too well always err on the side of caution and keep it as light-hearted as possible.
5. Presentation is key!
Writing your Sinterklaas poem by hand is a nice way of giving it a personal touch … but it’s also extremely frustrating if the recipient cannot decipher your scrawl and is unable to read the poem out loud when the moment arrives! If you already know that your handwriting is a little sloppy, consider typing it up and printing it out instead. You can still personalise it with a small drawing or other embellishments if desired. Once your poem is ready, place it in an attractive envelope and include some favourite Sinterklaas treats such as pepernoten (spiced biscuits), sint schuimpjes (foam sweets) or taai taai (gingerbread) as an additional surprise.
Prefer to read this article in Dutch? Why not visit to our sister blog, heimwee.info, specifically intended for Dutch emigrants abroad.