Category Archives: Dutch Essentials

Things you should really know when living in the Netherlands.

Kings Day by our Members …

April 27th is here and when you’re an international living in the Netherlands, it can seem like the whole country is going orange crazy … so International Almere is here to help you survive Kings Day in Almere, and some tips for if you decide to head out to the bigger celebrations in Amsterdam.

We asked our members for the best tips on where to go in Almere, personal experiences and stories, and survival tips so we could make a Guide to Kings Day in Almere and beyond!

Memories of Kings Day

Our members shared their experiences of Kings Day – the good, the funny, the cultural mishaps and the bad.  From childhood memories of selling toys, to broken down cars, relocation disasters and even those who were disappointed in the party, they told their stories.

When I was young me and my brother went to sit and sell stuff with my dad. We got up early (well, like 5-6 am) and drive to the city centre, which was not nearly as big as it is now. We would find a nice spot and sit there all day ’till about 5 on our blanket. We did this for years. But slowly the people started to realize that the early bird gets the best buy, and sellers started to realize they would have to come earlier to have the early birds scouting their stuff.. and to claim a good space. Because, Almere was getting bigger every year. Well, that resulted in today people starting to sell from the day before. And although it’s not allowed to sell before 6 pm on the 26th people usually start earlier than that. Petra (Netherlands)

Queens Day and I didn’t start off the right foot. Back in ’89 I was young, naive and came from the country of street- and community party’s. Any party held in public, whether it was the a public holiday, a 700th anniversary of the city, the annual fair of the fire brigade/men’s choir/local gymnastic society/ local church etc., came always with a) music b) beer (ok, in case of the church tea and coffee) and c) food. A LOT of food. Dozens of cakes and pies, “Schwenkbraten” (BBQ), Bratwurst ohne ende…You get the picture. Anyway, at my first Queens Day I left the house, excited to discover the Dutch way to party and try their specialties and found thousands of happy Dutch people drinking beer (Yay!!) and selling their old belongings (huh????). I went home, hungry and disappointed. These days we have Kings Day though, and I have to admit, it has it charms. Once I realized beer is a good companion with almost anything at Kings Day AND I found a charming Dutchman who introduced me to the real thing (Amsterdam), I started to enjoy it. Kings day has everything. From spontaneous street parties, to markets, to gigantic festivals. In Almere I love going to the Belfort Plein, enjoying the sunshine (if we get so lucky) and some music, In Amsterdam I love the market which is kids only at the Vondelpark. Utrecht is also great with lots of terraces, music and a relaxed day out. The fun is starting the evening before though, with Kings Night. In the city centre people start to sell their second hand goods and the first parties are getting started. My advice if this is your first Kings day? Go with the flow and enjoy. Just like the Dutch do! Doreen (Germany)

When i was young it was heaps of fun.. sitting there at 3am .. people was kind and had lots of laughs. My parents car even broke down on our way with all our stuff in ! People started helping pushing the car down to the mall. We’d take food and coffee with us.. my aunts and uncles was always standing next to us..so a whole line of family next to each other.. damn good times.. memories.. Katrina (Australia/Netherlands)

 I used to love Queens day in Hilversum, there was always a Kermis and loads of free activities for the children, bouncy castles, pony rides, face painting, lots of live music, it was always a fantastic day out. We loved looking what was for sale and getting a bargain. I have to say I was really disappointed when we moved to Almere as there really wasn’t that much on in comparison. Rachael (Australia)

Surviving Amsterdam

It’s said that you’ve never experienced Kings Day until you’ve been to one in Amsterdam.  And yes, we know that Almere is the place to be, our members have also given us their stories and tips for Kings Day in Amsterdam.

Jordaan is very nice on Kings Day! That’s near the Westertoren and Anne Frank museum area! Go early because it’s very busy there ! There’s very creative and funny people who do karaoke from out their window or more funny selling ideas and in the Elandstraat and the Eesterstraat, Noordermarkt & Laurierstraat are really easy to recommend!

 It is such an experience, Kingsday in Amsterdam! I really recommend it for that international feeling of togetherness, joy, and delightfulness, it always gives such a rewarding feeling that day  Internationalism and people from all over the world are like brothers it’s a genuine experience and gives hope (that’s my personal experience) for a better world it is possible Marita (Netherlands)

Survival tips for Amsterdam

  1. Go early
  2. Park legally – if you go to Amstel station and then bike or take public transport.
  3. Watch out for glass on the ground and wear closed shoes.
  4. Take small change for toilets and bargains!
  5. Take a litre of water
  6. If you’re going with friends, pick a meeting point for the end of the day in case you get separated
  7. Keep your personal items (phones, wallets) safe at all times.
  8. Wear orange!

November 11 is Sint Maarten!

November 11. In the evening children (with their parents preferably) go door to door with a lantern and get candy in exchange for singing Sint Maarten songs. The feast has gained popularity in the Netherlands. In the previous century it wasn’t celebrated everywhere, but somehow it did find it’s way to Almere quite early on. It’s the name day of Utrecht’s Patron Saint Martinus van Tours, and the origin is purely speculation. Continue reading November 11 is Sint Maarten!

Special Dutch Days – Kings Day, Dodenherdenking and Bevrijdingsdag

Special Guest post by Michel Daenen of Crossing Cultures

At the end of April and the beginning of May three typical Dutch events take place every year. In my work as cross cultural trainer I noticed that these events often raise questions to expats living in the Netherlands. If properly explained, expats can more easily relate to the Dutch behavior during these days. Understanding the customs and rituals also helps to emotionally connect with the Dutch during these days and take part in the celebrations. I therefore will try to bring some clarity on the meaning of these events to the Dutch en explain some of the customs, habits and rituals that can be seen during these events.

Continue reading Special Dutch Days – Kings Day, Dodenherdenking and Bevrijdingsdag

The Dutch Circle Party Guide

Invader StuIt would be impossible to be an Expat living in the Netherlands without knowing about Invading Holland. It’s much like The Undutchables; a must-read for us all. Invading Holland is a light-hearted look into life in the Netherlands with hilarious anecdotes about having your bike stolen, an addiction to Speculoos and signs to look out for that you might be becoming Dutch…

Earlier this month, Stu, the voice behind Invading Holland won a Bloggie, which is the bloggers’ equivalent of The Oscars. It’s not a big deal, it is THE big deal.

Now, to the article.

Anyone who has lived in Holland for any length of time has most likely encountered a Dutch circle party and those who have not will eventually, it is inevitable. A Dutch circle party (the name is not a euphemism) can be best described as a ‘party’ that involves sitting in a circle all afternoon and chatting while drinking tea and eating cake. Anyone who only considers a party to be a party if someone is passed out in the corner, people are making out in the kitchen and the cops have been called at least three times is going to be sorely disappointed.

When attending a Dutch circle party it is important to know that when other attendees shake your hand and announce ‘Gefeliciteerd’ they are not introducing themselves. It might start to seem like you are being introduced to a very big family or that Gefeliciteerd is a more common name than Smith but they are in fact wishing you, “congratulations”.

“Gefeliciteerd.”

“Stuart. Nice to meet you Mr and Mrs Gefeliciteerd.”

This is because it is custom for the Dutch to congratulate everyone at the party and (as I discovered) is not because they are unsure about who the birthday boy or girl is (don’t try to be helpful by pointing).

Once you have successfully found a place to sit with in the circle (not necessarily with the people you arrived with and most likely with people you don’t know at all) you will be offered a drink and some cake. If you desire a drink with a little extra kick it is advisable to secretly conceal a hip flask of alcohol about your person since the strongest thing to be served at most Dutch circle parties is chamomile tea.

Circle PartyIt is also custom for there to be a minimum of 3 or 4 generations of family present at a Dutch circle party (the maximum limit is only set by the average human life span). This makes it entirely possible to go from a conversation about life as a member of the Dutch resistance during World War 2 to which Sesame Street character is best and why (It’s best to avoid getting these two conversations mixed up, Dora the Explore was never part of the Dutch resistance).

However, since a lot of these conversations will be in Dutch and thus impossible for a non-Dutch speaker to follow it is best to find something of interest to do to pass the time such as; staring at a wall, listening to the clock tick, trying to guess how much Dutch ‘worst & kaas’ you can eat or simply going to your happy place.

However, you must also stay alert! As a non Dutch speaker it is possible to go from being unintentionally ignored to suddenly having the entire room focus upon you within a split second as everyone waits silently for your answer to a question that you might not have heard because you were too busy watching a bug crawl across the window. This can happen because a Dutch attendee simply wanted to practice their English, ask you what brought you to Holland or simply know the current prices of the UK housing market. Whatever the reason, everyone in the room suddenly wants to hear the English speaker talk and they never seem to realize what a shock to the system this sudden intimidating attention can be or that testing us on our Dutch under the watchful eye of a room full of native speakers is not necessarily the most comfortable of situations.

But do not worry. Most Dutch circle parties have a set end time at a very respectable hour which the host or hostess will politely remind you of by starting to clean up around you.

PARRTTTYYYY!!!!!

This post orig­i­nally appeared on Invading Holland and has been repub­lished with full permission.

Comment below with your funniest Circle Party experience to win one of Stu’s Circle Party Survivor t-shirts.  The post with the most number of likes will be announced the winner.  This competition is open to residents of the Netherlands only and only comments on this article below will be eligible for the prize.  Good luck!

UPDATE: We have a winner! Stephanie Ernst-Milner, Stu’s Circle Party tshirt is all yours! We will be in touch to give you your shirt as soon as possible, so check your email!

Thanks very much to everybody who entered and submitted stories. We haven’t laughed so hard in ages.

And thanks again to Stu for such a wonderful post and a wonderful prize.

Getting to Know Us: Nicole Peetsma-Epker

Meet Nicole, International Almere’s secretary.  Our interview with Nicole is the latest in our Getting to Know Us series here at International Almere.

Nicole stepped into the hugely challenging IA secretary role at the end of last year and most visibly is responsible for our newsletter (have you signed up for it?  If not, run, don’t walk HERE) along with ensuring that everything in the background of the ever-expanding group runs smoothly.

Over to you Nicole!

Where were you born?
I was born in Simcoe, Ontario, Canada.

 

Where have you lived?
I have lived in Simcoe ON, Fenwick ON and here in Almere. 

 

What brought you to Almere?
I came to Almere because it is where my husband lives.

 

Almere is an interesting and unique city to live in, describe your favourite part of living here.
What I love about Almere is that it is one of the biggest cities in The Netherlands. Yet, it doesn’t feel cramped at all.  Plus, living in Almere Haven, it is quite pretty and peaceful.

 

How have you best been made to feel at home since you arrived?
The best feeling of feeling like home is when my friends surprised me at the airport when I came back from Canada the first time.

 

Where is your favourite place to go out or eat out in the city?
I really don’t have a favourite place here in Almere.  I like most places.  Le Baron does hold a special place though.  It was the first place I went out to eat at when I was first here.

 

Would you define yourself as an expat, an international, or something entirely different?
I consider myself an International.

 

How long do you plan on living here for?
For the near future the plans are to stay here.  But hubby and I would like to live back in Canada one day.

 

Tell us how you found International Almere?
I found IA by surfing the net.  I had met Christina at V&D one day and my son saw that her son had a maple leaf on his coat.  So we started talking – she is also from Canada and told me about the international group.  But when I got home I had forgotten it.  So I felt like a stalker trying to find this group! LOL

 

Have you been to any International Almere events?  Which was your favourite?
I go to most Friday night drinks and Quiz nights.  I love the Quiz nights the best!

What advice would you offer to others who are thinking of taking the plunge and moving to Almere?
I say go for it!  It’s a great city.  We may not have the old architecture, but you are close enough to other cities to see it when you want.  Best part, for being such a new city, we have a ruin! LOL (Almere Castle).

 

What has been your biggest challenge since arriving in Almere?
My biggest challenge was getting over the fact of having neighbors.  I’m a country girl.  Plus, having to get over the fear of taking public transit on my own.

If you had to leave tomorrow and could take only one thing – anything – from Almere, what would it be?
Um… Tough question…Bus, bike and car lane system.  I really think it’s great how it’s all separated.  (for the most part). 

 

What is your favourite Dutch tradition, and how do you celebrate?  Do you still celebrate holidays and traditions from your home country?

My favorite Dutch traditions are Queens Day, Sinterklaas and New years.   As for celebrating traditions from Canada, we don’t really do much of that here.  I will start though J So that my kids know those traditions too.

 

More in the Getting to Know Us series:

 
Getting to Know Us: Carly Bridgeman

Getting to Know Us: Becky Riddle

 

[box style=”rounded”]Would you like to take part in the Getting to Know Us series? We would love to hear from you!

Drop us a line by filling out the form below and we will be in touch with all the details:

 

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Special Offer: The Guest Card

The Guest Card is the largest expat community in the Netherlands and was started as a joint initiative with the City of The Hague to help internationals with starting their lives in the Netherlands.  In 2012, The Guest Card is celebrating their 5th birthday, and their expansion to other areas of the Netherlands, including the Amsterdam area.

As part of their birthday celebrations, The Guest Card is giving away free membership to everybody at International Almere.  The card offers loads of discounts and exclusive deals especially for international people living in the Netherlands.

Here are some of what is on offer:

–          Get discounts at restaurants, theatres, museums, shops and more

–          Be introduced to the best service providers for internationals

–          Get invited to exclusive parties & events

–          Shop at Sligro with your personal Sligro card and experience wholesale shopping

–          And much more…

 Normally the membership costs €12,- for the main subscriber and €6,- for an additional partner card.

You can use this coupon code for your free registration: IA

 Get your free membership here

Go ahead and take advantage of this great offer.  It will be worth it, especially the Sligro membership.  Plus, the more International Almere members, the greater the opportunity for the team at The Guest Card to work with more local Almere businesses and service providers to get a better deal for us.

Lady on bike

Working Through Culture Shock

In only the last six months or so I’ve noticed a shift in my perception and attitude to life here in the Netherlands.  Confrontations or situations that earlier would have left a black cloud hanging over my head for an entire day (or a week, sometimes!) no longer seem to bother me for much longer than a couple of minutes.  Often these days I’ll have a near miss on my bike with an idiot in a car on the way to work and by the time I arrive at the office it has been forgotten.
I have been wondering to myself if perhaps, finally, I’m transitioning through the stages of culture shock.  It is generally understood that culture shock passes within a few months (certainly within a year), but I talk to people here in the Netherlands who are clearly still struggling, often after a few years.  I certainly have been!According to Wikipedia culture shock has four distinct phases; Honeymoon, Negotiation, Adjustment and Mastery.  In the honeymoon phase everything is lovely and new, bright and shiny, exciting and fascinating.  The negotiation phase tends to kick in once one realises that life isn’t actually all roses.  Differences between the home culture and new culture become glaringly apparent, and the differences are often difficult to deal with.  Language, social interaction and perhaps one of the big issues for people coming to the Netherlands is the attitude within primary health care and its magical wonder drug, paracetamol, can become overwhelming.Eventually the negotiation phase fades and the adjustment stage will begin. Wikipedia states that this usually happens between the six and twelve month mark, although if my own experience is anything to go by, it can take much, much longer.  In the adjustment phase one will develop more of a positive outlook and deal with issues as they arise instead of getting bogged down in the differences and difficulties that they would have during the negotiation phase.Finally, the mastery phase.  Basically full integration.  This does not mean losing one’s own cultural identity, but becoming comfortable enough in the new country that they finally feel at home and at ease.I had been struggling along in the negotiation phase for a very long time.  So long in fact, that I don’t even remember the honeymoon phase.  Perhaps my honeymoon phase was in the time when I was just a regular visitor, rather than a resident.  I do remember marvelling at the ING building in Amsterdam Zuid on my first trip and traversing the Oosterschelde and Afluitdijk respectively was an incredible experience for me.

ING building, Amsterdam.  Pic
But, I have so many memories of incidents and hurdles that really bogged me down.  Regular tantrums in the supermarket for not being able to find the “right” products.  Horror and anger that would last for days at a perceived slight from an encounter in public.  Throwing my homework across the room and refusing to continue at the tone of some to the integration coursework.  Uncontrollable tears when I break three wine glasses in one day because I’m just useless and can’t do anything right (that was a merry Christmas, let me tell you).  All things that should in all seriousness be water off a ducks back.  But they just weren’t.  Everything was so much harder.  I would take everything personally.  My husband has been unbelievably patient with me for a very long time and it’s really only now that I’m coming out the other end that I realise just how trying I must have been (who am I kidding, still am!).Why has the transition into adjustment finally come about after so long?  I really think that it has to do with all of the health dramas I’ve had in the past year.  As a consequence of being ill, I’ve had to put myself out there and speak Dutch.  I’ve had to be proactive in interacting with others.  I’ve had to take a good look at myself and my own attitude.Once I realised which stage I was at in culture shock I seemed to immediately recognise patterns and move through to the next phase.  It was like a light switched on in my head.  I’m happier more than I have been in almost four years of living here in the Netherlands.  I can finally have a meaningful conversation with my mother in law as I am much more confident with my level of Dutch.  When I encounter antisocial behaviour (daily) I’ll just think “sukkel” and forget about it almost immediately.  It’s almost to the point where I can just laugh almost everything off.By no means does my new outlook make me reflect and think that my old attitude was ridiculous and invalid.  I don’t doubt that others around me believe(d) that I was behaving like a crazed harpy, but that makes my own feelings no less important or relevant.  Life has been a real struggle for me in the last few years.  I could not count the amount of hours, days or probably even weeks that I’ve spent wishing that I could be in Australia, or even anywhere else if I’m honest.  I do truly believe that there are real social and behavioural issues that need dealing with here in the Netherlands which have been a huge factor in how I’ve felt.  The bubble mentality is so ingrained that it is very obvious that many, many people think only of themselves.  You can enter any supermarket or stand in any queue and experience it.  My husband’s grandfather, who is quite possibly the most lovely man you could meet turns into a shoving monster when he’s put into a queue for free food.  His appalling behaviour has to be seen to be believed!What happens now?  I keep moving up.  I seem to be slowly evolving into more of a glass half full type of person and I’m liking this new outlook.  I’m not walking around with a dark cloud hovering over my head any more.  I can finally see and appreciate my life and how damned good I have it.

I’m going to master this culture shock if it kills me.
Which stage are you at in the four phases of culture shock? How have you coped? How long has it taken you to see the light at the end of the tunnel?
(The original post can be found here)
Money

The Dreaded Blue Envelope

What is the most feared and dreaded part of living in the Netherlands?  The aspect that would make even the Prime Minister quake in his boots?  The police?  The cheese?  The dijks bursting?  If you suggested any of these, you’d be wrongity wrong wrong wrong.

So what is it then?  Ask any Dutchie and they’ll tell you.  It’s receiving the Blue Envelope.  What’s the Blue Envelope?  Why is it so feared?  Let me explain.

The Blue Envelope is the Belastingdienst (Tax Office) getting in contact and most residents will receive them multiple times a year – income tax and road tax to name just two.  You may have recently (or are about to receive) your Jaaropgaaf (group certificate, or end of year tax report) from your employer in the mail, which is the sign that you need to get yourself organised to submit your yearly tax return.  We could go on and on about the intricacies of the Dutch tax system, but it is so complex (and so boring) that we will just keep it as simple and as hassle free for the average person as possible (average being employed and needing to submit a tax return).

In the Netherlands the tax year runs from January to December, unlike some other countries.  For example, Australia’s tax year is from July to June, and the UK is the year beginning April 6.  Also here in the Netherlands you are expected to lodge your tax return by April 1.  The Belastingdienst (tax office) can issue you a fine if you don’t submit your tax return on time, although you can apply for an extension.  It’s not likely that you’ll receive a fine in the mail after April 1, it’s more likely that you’ll be caught in one of the police blitzes that we often see here – where the police work together with the tax office to pull people off the freeway by running their car registration and then hitting them with all their unpaid fines/tax declarations.  It’s an enormous fundraiser for the government.

When it comes time to complete your tax return, you’ll find that in principle the process is very easy.  All you really need to do is go to the belastingdienst.nl website and download the aangifte (form) from here.  This year, there is an option to wait until between March 1 and April 1 where you can download a partially completed version of the aangifte, which will have automatically populated data regarding your wage income and tax value of your home if you own yours.  Once you’ve completed the form, all you have to do is submit it electronically.  You will have calculated either how much you owe or are owed, so there won’t be any more (nasty) surprises.

You will also find out that the tax system is categorised into three “boxes.”  The first box is for your primary income (salary, home etc), the second is for major shareholdings, and the third is taxable income from savings and investments (savings accounts, investment properties etc).  It will depend on your personal situation if boxes two and three are even relevant.

It’s also interesting to note, that if you moved to the Netherlands during 2011 and only worked a portion of the year, you do not have to lodge a tax return this year.  You are allowed to leave it until next year and submit a form for tax year 2011 and 2012 at the same time.

Something that we have so far neglected to mention is the DigiD (digital ID).  To submit your tax online, or through a third party (accountant, tax adviser), you need to have a DigiD.  Sounds easy.  Ha!  To apply for a DigiD you first go to the website and fill in the required details including your BSN (personal identity number used to connect you to all government systems), and personal information.  You will then choose a username and password and once completed, a letter will then be sent to you (in the post) with a code that you need to activate back at the DigiD site within 20 days.  If you don’t activate it, or you forget your username and password in the mean time, you will need to start over.

It’s a very common complaint amongst expats and internationals that dealing with the Belastingdienst is a complete nightmare.  All of the information is in Dutch only, and there are many comments and complaints that telephone advisers refuse to speak English and there are no options to choose other languages when calling for advice (as there are in other countries when dealing with their respective tax offices).  So what happens when you don’t speak the language?  For many of us that means finding an accountant, or contacting one of the many expat tax specialists who can do this for us.  All you need to do is Google “expat tax Netherlands” to see the many, many companies who offer their services.

But what if you don’t want to pay someone to do all of the work for you or you want to learn how to lodge your return?  We have managed to dig up some links in English that should help you (at least a bit).  First of all, there is information on the Belastingdienst website in both English and German although the information is primarily aimed at non-residents and there is not a form to complete your tax return if you are a resident and don’t speak Dutch.  In this case, Google Translate will become your very best friend as you work through the form.

There is however, comprehensive information on how to obtain and use your DigiD in English, which can be found here.

Now, we haven’t even touched on the various toeslagen (rebates) that are available throughout the year.  Depending on your income, you may be eligible for Zorgtoeslag (health insurance rebate), Huurtoeslag (rental rebate) and Kindertoeslag (childcare rebate).  Nor have we mentioned the Gemeente Belasting or Water Belasting.  Stay tuned for more information about those hot topics.

 

How do you cope with Blue Envelope Day?  Do you have a trusted accountant who you leave in charge of your tax return?  Do you speak Dutch and would like to volunteer your language skills to other International Almeerders who would otherwise struggle through their return, putting it off until the last possible minute?

Let us know, we’d love to hear from you.

And in the immortal words of the Belastingdients themselves:  “leuker kan ik het niet maken, maar hoop wel makkelijker!”

Champagne Glasses

Dutch New Year: Oud en Nieuw

Oud en Nieuw consists of Oudejaarsavond (New Year’s Eve) on December 31 and Nieuwjaarsdag (New Year’s Day) on January 1 which is a public holiday.

Champagne Glasses
© Tim Baker (FlickR: timmygunz)

New Year’s Eve

New Year’s Eve is usually spent enjoying a party with friends and family or going into town to see open-air concerts and the fireworks around the city. Fans of loud banging noises will have a field day, as overzealous children of all ages set off crackers. The red cracker papers turn the streets bright red. I’m told that the tradition of setting off fireworks and crackers has something to do with old pagan customs of driving away demons, so that the New Year could begin with a clean slate. At the stroke of midnight, firework displays brightly color the sky and the cacophony of people wishing each other aGelukkig Nieuwjaar (Happy New Year) can be heard all around.

New Year’s Day

It has become traditional (for some crazy die hards) to take a Nieuwjaarsduik at noon on New Year’s Day. This involves taking a dip in the freezing cold North Sea at Scheveningen beach in the Hague. The swimmers are rewarded with a steaming cup of Dutch winter soup, usually erwtensoep, a thick split pea soup with smoked sausage.

Traditional Oud en Nieuw treats include:

  • oliebollen
  • appelflappen
  • erwtensoep
Sinterklaas

Saint Nicholas: Sinterklaas

Sinterklaas
@copy; Esther Wieringa (Flickr: wester)

The Dutch have their very own tradition in December, Sinterklaas. This man should not be mistaken for Santa Claus or Father Christmas even if they do have kind of the same job. Sinterklaas does not come from the North Pole and he does not have reindeers, brownies or a red cap with a tuft. Sinterklaas lives in Spain and he has a white horse. Instead of the brownies he has Zwarte Pieten, Black Piets, who assist him on his journey, little helpers with dark skin and colourful clothes.

They all board a ship sailing from Spain to a port (different every year) in the Netherlands and when arriving, they are welcomed by the mayor and citizens. They arrive sometime in mid November just in time for the annual parade which is the start of the “Sinterklaas season”. The following weeks are spent to the assessment of the behavior of the children during the past year. In short, if they have been naughty or nice. He keeps this information in a large leather bound book, with gold print. They get to sit on his lap and then he asks them about their behavior during the year. And you can not lie to Sinterklaas, can you? That is why naughty children go straight into the sack and have to go back to Spain with Sinterklaas.

The eve of December 5th is a special day for all Dutch children. This is when Sinterklaas rides around the country on his white horse. Children put shoes under the chimney and they also place a piece of carrot in them as a reward for the horse. Sinterklaas stops at the roof of the houses and send a Piet down the chimney to put some kind of gift in the shoes. This is often a piece of chocolate in the form of the receiver’s first initial and pepernoten, small hard cookies. This is a very busy time for Sinterklaas, in the day he visits schools and other places and in the evening people’s homes. He knocks on the door and hand out gifts from his sack.

Of course he needs a bit help sometimes, so kind souls dress up in a red cape with golden embroidery over white clothes, fix themselves a nice white beard and put a mitre-shaped red hat with a golden cross on their heads and grab a golden shepherd’s staff to go with that. These clothes are much similar to the ones worn by bishops. This because the model of Sinterklaas is said to have been Saint Nicholas, a bishop from Myra in Turkey born in 271 AD. There are numerous legends about his good deeds. One story is that he saved three little girls from being sold by their poor father. By throwing three golden pieces for their dowry through the window he saved them from a future in despair. It just happen to be that the gifts landed in the stockings that the girls had hung up by the fireplace to dry. Another story say that he brought three children back to life after they had been chopped up by a butcher. He just put the pieces together and prayed and suddenly they were alive without a scratch. He is also the patron saint of the sailors after calming a storm at sea and when doing that he saved the lives of many people, including himself. Old scripts say that Saint Nicholas died on the 6th of December in 343 AD, that is why he is remembered this time a year. His relics have been the subject of some disagreements, but they are said to be in Bari in Italy since 1087.

Saint Nicholas connection to shipping might explain why Sinterklaas is said to live in Spain. In the 17th century the Netherlands was a major shipping nation and the country had close connections with Spain. This would also explain the dark colour of the skin of the Zwarte Pieten, since Spain naturally gets more sun than northern Europe. Another explanation for it could be the constant climbing up and down sooty chimneys.

The celebration of Sinterklaas is foremost for children and families, but some friends also celebrate with giving each other gifts. Short humorous rhymes or poems are attached to the gifts and they often have a personal touch. There are a number of popular songs about Sinterklaas and the stories surrounding him. Special food that is close connected to the celebration are Speculaas, a spiced cake filled with almond paste. Marzipan is another appreciated goodie.

On Christmas, the 25th and 26th of December, Father Christmas visit some families and bring gifts. Others just do not care for the fellow and all the fuss around him.

(Source: Holland.nl)