Winter holidays are celebrated all over the world; however, different places have unique traditions. One of these places is the Netherlands, where the Dutch celebrate Sinterklass in December, which can be roughly translated to “Saint Nicholas.”
Sinterklaas does not take the place of Christmas in the Netherlands. Both holidays involve decorating trees and other similar traditions, but they take place on different days.
Participants decorate their houses and use the celebration as a reason to be with their families. Max Stoevelaar, senior, is an exchange student from the Netherlands who celebrates Sinterklaas. He described the holiday as being “mostly the same as [Christmas],” including decorating trees with lights, eating sweets and spending time with the people you love. They have Sinterklaas songs in addition to all their other festivities. His favorite part of the season is “Christmas dinner with the whole family.”
While there are many traditions in the Netherlands that are similar to Christmas, including a Santa Claus-like mythical figure, there are some variations. One of the most noticeable differences is the lack of gifts. While some families choose to give gifts for Sinterklaas, Stoevelaar and many others choose to give gifts on Christmas.
The season also comes with some classic Dutch foods. Stoevelaar’s favorite food at the Sinterklaas table is roasted chicken. While a typical Christmas dinner in the U.S. might include roasted meat and mashed potatoes, a Dutch dinner commonly includes rabbit coupled with vegetables and Kerstbrood, a type of holiday bread. For dessert, the Dutch have Speculaas, a flaky spiced classic cookie, and Oliebollen, a doughnut-like ball with powdered sugar, whereas Christmas might have cake and cookies.
Zwarte Piet, which translates to “Black Pete,” is the traditional Sinterklaas helper in the Netherlands, often considered controversial due to the black soot all over his face which can be considered “blackface.” While some people defend the tradition, Stoevelaar said, “Traditions can be changed and I don’t think the people who celebrate Sinterklaas with Black Pete are discriminating, but they are keeping something that can be seen as racist alive... I think it’s okay if it changes.”
Although the holiday may have been cast into a bad light because of this tradition, the holiday is still a merry time for celebrations, family and joy.