Everyone knows the story of Santa Claus with his elves, reindeer, and his sleigh. He wears the same red suit every year, pushes himself down a chimney, and puts presents in stockings and under the tree while he eats his cookies and milk. Well, in the Netherlands, this story is a bit different.
Instead of Santa Claus, the Dutch have Sinterklaas. The holiday is celebrated on December 5th which is the Eve of Saint Nicholas. In November, Sinterklaas will arrive in Amsterdam by steamboat from Spain with his Zwarte Pieten and his grey horse. The Zwarte Pieten are the Dutch version of Santa’s elves and are translated as “Black Petes.” You can see these Black Petes playing music in the video below. I have seen them roaming around all over Amsterdam as well as with the decorations in the windows of stores.
Instead of stockings hung over the fireplace, children in Holland will place their shoes by the fireplace and Sinterklaas will fill the shoes with goodies. Sinterklaas travels from roof to roof, putting presents down the chimney just as Santa Claus does.
There are many stories explaining the origin of these Black Petes, but it is rather unclear as to exactly how they originated. These helpers have been questionably considered to be a racist concept. With the most modern, politically correct story, the Black Petes are known to be the chimney sweeps of Sinterklaas and their faces are black because of the soot. Very old origins mention that Black Pete was Sinterklaas’ servant that he set free. To show his appreciation, Black Pete stayed with Sinterklaas and helped him deliver presents to little children.
Currently in Amsterdam there are two Christmas fairs going on with ice skating rinks. These fairs serve traditional Dutch food and offer a winter wonderland for people of all ages. There are figures of Santa Claus and his reindeer put up all over the fairs. This may be to attract the many tourists that make their way to Amsterdam. Sinterklaas looks a bit different than Santa Claus. Sinterklaas looks like a mix between the American Santa Claus and a bishop. Lights have been put up all around Amsterdam too! Christmas is coming!