Day 116: Sinterklaas and the 1000’s of Zwarte Pieten

Today we celebrated an old, Dutch tradition from the 1930s of welcoming Sinterklaas to town from Madrid on his steamboat. He arrived with huge fanfare and docked his boat on the Amstel River next to the Het Scheepvaartmuseum.  The Zwarte Pieten were entertaining the crowds, singing and dancing and repelling from the rooftops, excited for Sinterklaas’ arrival.  It was such a site to see and a day to experience true, Dutch culture.

We got up early on this Sunday morning to take the tram to Amsterdam Central Station, and walked over to the “best” spot to see his arrival.


My favorite part of the day was people watching. Everyone was in such a good spirit and were happy and were together with family and friends. Kids everywhere were dressed up in Zwarte Piet hats and painted faces and costumes.




Not having experienced this celebration but once when I was a child, I was in awe and didn’t want to miss a thing. I don’t know who was more excited – me, my mom, or my kids!!  I guess it was a good day for all.

Zwarte Piet means Black Peter, and there are several different explanations as to what he symbolizes. There is some controversy over his being, which I’d rather not discuss here because I think it takes away from the true intent and context of the original celebration.  Literally thousands of people are dressed up as this character with their faces painted black. They run around and tease the crowds, play tricks, ride scooters or roller blades and hand out pepper noten – small, miniature ginger/cinnamon like cookies and small candies. They also gave out post cards and flags to wave along the parade route. 




The story is that Sinterklaas arrives in town on his steamboat, and then parades through town on his white horse with his helpers before St. Nicholas Eve on December 5th. This gives him time to visit all the good childrens’ homes before the big event.






He received the golden magic key from the mayor and can now magically get into the houses to deliver small presents.  Children leave letters and carrots in their shoes, and Sinterklaas replaces them with gifts. 

It was really exciting to experience this celebration today with so many people along the parade route. The spirit in the air was truly friendly, warm and jovial, despite the cold and sunny weather. I think it’s a great way to bring on the holiday season.  To learn more about Sinterklaas, you can visit wikipedia here:

Watching Charlie’s excitement today at the parade, and seeing my mom help him write a letter to Sinterklaas in Dutch and drawing pictures on his letter was pure joy. I wish that everyone could feel the magic and spirit of being a kid, filled with wonder and curiosity and a touch of fear, waiting and anticipating when Sinterklaas and the Zwarte Pieten may come and knock on our door, throwing pepper noten inside and filling his shoes with candy and toys.  

Happy Holidays!!  xo


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