Duncan de Boer | Amsterdam

Legend has it that Sinterklaas orignally came from Turkey. Formally the Bishop of Mira ‘St Nicholas’, a kind man who was good to children has had close ties with Amsterdam for almost 1700 years, since 373 AD. It is still a mystery as to why he chose to move to Spain, but given the time-set historians suggest it might have been due to the Spanish Domination over The Netherlands.


However mysterious the Medieval attire of the ‘Zwarte Pieten is equally so, conclusions are that they were stuck in chimneys for an awfully long time, hence the sooty black faces and the time-warped costumes.

Eventhough in recent years contraversial debates regarding racism was struck up regarding the Zwarte Pieten (literally Black Peters),  they are actively seeking solutions in Amsterdam and the rest of The Netherlands to keep the tradition as close to it’s roots and keep all the concerned parties happy.

Grand arrival in Amsterdam

The grandeous arrival of Sinterklaas is a spectacle enjoyed by over 400,000 spectators. Usually over a kilometre of boats and floats, Amsterdam hosts the largest St Nick parade in the world. Sinterklaas sailed into town on 16 November with 600 Pieten and truckloads of pepernoten (small mainly cinamon spiced biscuits), and sail the canals.

The legend of the white-beard tradidtionally makes his entrance by sailing down the Amstel River followed by a route through the city past places like the Nieuwe Amstelbrug, Torontobrug, Hogesluis and the Magere Brug. The waterborne parade takes a halt at the Maritime Museum where Sint is welcomed by the Mayor of Amsterdam.


After the water parade he trades in his boat for his white horse Amerigo, and merilly parades trough the street with his loyal band of helpers, the Zwarte Pieten, who once again throw cookies and candy to the thousands of onlookers. Snaking their way through the Prins Hendrikkade and the Damrak, Sinterklaas makes his way to the Dam Square for a special musical programme for children of all sorts.

After the musical portion of the day ends, Sinterklaas proceeds down the Rokin, Muntplein, Rembrandtplein, Weteringcircuit unitl he gets to the final stop on the tour, the Leidseplein, where he delivers a special message to his fans, big and small, from the balcony of the Staddschouburg.

Have you been good or bad?

Starting from Sint’s arrival, children put out their shoes before bedtime accompanied with a glass of water (or wine) for the Saint and carrots for Amerigo (the horse) and hope that they leave a gift behind for them to find in the morning. Good kids are usually rewarded by chocolate letters and marzipan while the naughty kids are usually punished by finding a lump of coal and a letter.

Although the celebration of Sinterklaas falls on the 6th of December, the evening of the 5th is the main gift-giving occacion in Holland. This evening is called Sinterklaasavond (the evening of Saint Nick) or pakjesavond (evening of packages), Sint drops off a sack of gifts on the doorstep before heading back to Spain.


Much like Christmas, everyone unwraps their gifts from Sinterklaaas and reads out their letters and poems written to them (keeping the authours completely anonymous). The festivities end with treats like chocolate letters, pepernoten (spiced cookies), marzipan and hot coco with whipped cream.

So, have you been naught or nice?