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Want to impress family and friends or dazzle the kids with your superior Sinterklaas knowledge? Our 10 fun Sinterklaas facts below are guaranteed to inspire, and bound to bring your Sinterklaas stories well and truly to life!
1. Contrary to popular belief, Sinterklaas actually comes from Turkey and not Spain. Both the Dutch and Belgian Sinterklaas characters are based on the Bishop of Myra – a Christian saint from Lycia (Turkey), who died on December 6th, 342.
2. Although Sinterklaas is only celebrated in the Netherlands and Belgium, Saint Nicholas is also revered in a number of other countries, including France, Germany and Spain. For more information, please refer to our article entitled, ‘Celebrating Sinterklaas…abroad!
3. The official arrival of Sinterklaas takes place on the first Saturday after Sint-Maarten (11th November) and in a different Dutch town each year. His first ever arrival in the Netherlands was in Venray, Limburg on December 6th, 1888. The Dutch capital, Amsterdam, has also held its own official Sinterklaas arrival ceremony, since 1934.
4. Several famous Dutch actors have played Sinterklaas in recent decades, including Bram van der Vlugt, Robert ten Brink, Peter Faber and Hans Kesting. The first Sinterklaas to appear on Dutch television was Jan Gajentaan, a vet from Amsterdam.
5. In the Netherlands the Sint’s horse has been known as ‘Amerigo’ ever since it was named after the celebrated police horse in 1990. In Flanders his faithful steed has gone by the unusual name of “Slecht Weer Vandaag” (Bad Weather Today) since 1993. This reputedly came about after Sinterklaas and his helper, Piet, got their wires crossed. When Sinterklaas asked him what his horse was called, a confused Piet apparently answered, “Bad weather today, Sinterklaas”.
6. A traditional Sinterklaas ritual that’s endured in Holland ever since the sixteenth century, is to place a shoe next to the chimney breast. It’s a practice that’s particularly popular with young children, especially as Sinterklaas fills the shoe overnight with small gifts and Sinterklaas sweets, including chocolate letters, taai taai and marzipan.
7. Many popular Sinterklaas songs are several centuries old and were written by renowned Dutch lyricists, such as Jan Pieter Heije (“Zie de maan schijnt door de bomen”), Katharina Leopold (“O kom er eens kijken”) and Jan Schenkman (“Zie ginds komt de stoomboot”). To learn the words of some of the most famous Sinterklaas songs, please refer to our blog, “Favourite Dutch Sinterklaas Songs”.
8. Children often write real letters to Sinterklaas, which for obvious reasons, cannot be delivered. Belgian postal company, Bpost, has come up with a warm-hearted solution – in Belgium, children who address their Sinterklaas letters to free postcode, “0612 Heaven” will receive a small gift from Bpost in return!
9. Most Sinterklaas presents are distributed on ‘pakjesavond’, which is celebrated on the evening of 5th December. Belgian children, however, need to exercise a little more patience. Indeed, they must wait until the morning of 6th December (and Sinterklaas has already left for Spain) before unwrapping their eagerly anticipated gifts.
10. For most Dutch children, Sinterklaas slips out of the Netherlands totally unnoticed. However, a few Dutch towns, such as Monnickendam, Wijk bij Duurstede and Hoek van Holland, choose to mark the occasion with an annual Sinterklaas departure on the 6th December.
Prefer to read this article in Dutch? Then visit our sister blog, Heimwee.info, specifically intended for Dutch emigrants.