Culture, The Netherlands, Typically Dutch

7 Things You May Not Know About the Dutch Sinterklaas Celebration

My eight year old recently asked how long kruidnoten have been around for. It prompted a discussion with my buren about spices and ingredients and how long they have been available. It got me wondering: what else don’t we all know top of our heads about the Dutch Sinterklaas celebration?

7 Things You May Not Know About the Dutch Sinterklaas Celebration

1. Pepernoten and Kruidnoten are Often Confused

You’ll often be offered pepernoten but actually handed kruidnoten.

Originally the sweet biscuits were called pepernoten because of their ingredients (see number 2). The name stuck despite the ingredients and shape changing in the eighteenth century, and the official name change to kruidnoten.

Pepernoten have an aniseed taste and are a completely different shape and texture than kruidnoten.

What you see more often than not in the shops are kruidnoten.

Tip: Pepernoten are best bought from your local bakker.

2. The Origins of Kruidnoten

Kruidnoten used to be known as pepernoten because they were made of kruidkoek (spiced cake) and pepper. It tasted a bit like ontbijtkoek if Google is to be believed, and was square.

The sweet treats have been around since the sixteenth century.

Two centuries later the multitude of spices that give kruidnoten the taste we know today were added (courtesy of Dutch colonisation) and they were made into half circles.

3. How Long Has Zwarte Piet Been Around?

According to Wikipedia, Zwarte Piet stems back to the nineteenth century where he first appeared in a children’s illustrated book with Sinterklaas’ page. The book was published by Jan Schenkman and called ‘Sint Nikolaas en zijn Knecht’ (“Saint Nicholas and his Servant”).

So Piet has been around for a while, in an ever changing form.

4. When’s the Party? 5th or 6th December?

In Belgium (and many other countries) the Sinterklaasfeest is celebrated on the 6th of December. In the Netherlands it is on the 5th. Why is there a difference in the two countries?

Depends on which site you navigate to. I have read a few different theories but the truth is I am not sure which is correct. So if you know for sure please share with the group…..

5. Not a Birthday, But The Day Sinterklaas Died

Sinterklaas is jarig, ik zet mijn schoentje klaar goes the well known song that children sing for this celebration. However, it turns out in all likelihood we are not celebrating Sinterklaas’ birthday on the 6th December. It is an anniversary of the day he died.

Go figure.

6. The Origins of Shoe Presents

The presents children used to find in their shoes (put out once only on the 5th of December) used to be far simpler. Back in the 15th century shoes were put out in the church by the poor – money was put into them, as a gift from god.

Children would find apples, nuts and ‘sweets’ in the shoes they put out at home.

Children these days put their shoes out multiple times between Sinterklaas’ arrival in the country from Spain and his departure on the 6th of December.

7. Sinterklaas Celebrations Have Taken on a National Identity

Sinterklaas (St Nicholas Day) is celebrated far beyond the Netherlands and Belgium. However, the celebrations in each country have developed over the centuries differently and taken on their own cultural identity.

The Sinterklaas party, as it is celebrated in the Netherlands, is therefore uniquely Dutch.

Further reading:

A Guide to Pakjesavond in the Netherlands (aka 5 December)

5 December; It’s a Dutch Thing!

5 December: Who Has the Rule Book?




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