Sinterklaas, or Saint Nicholas, was originally a bishop from the 4th century in Turkey, and, over the next few hundred years, stories of this saint's miracles became well known throughout Western Europe. He eventually became the patron saint for children, as well as the patron saint for a number of other areas of society. The Dutch have celebrated the feast of St. Nicholas for more than 700 years, although may of the more recent traditions, including his arrival on a steam boat, have only been around since the 1800s. Sinterklaas is a beloved tradition amongst many Dutch people, and his arrival brings many traditional stacks, presents, and the festive songs.

There are two important dates revolving around Sinterklaas in the Netherlands, which include:

  • Sinterklaasintocht (Sinterklaas's arrival), which takes place on a Saturday several weeks before December 5. 
  • Pakjesavond (a 'gifting' evening), which takes place on December 5. 

Learn more about how to celebrate Sinterklaas below.


The arrival of Sinterklaas in November is an exciting day for many children. Throughout cities and towns in the Netherlands, you can witness his arrival (usually via boat) into the town. His journey is often heralded with special Sinterklaas songs, and many crowds gather to watch as he sets foot on dry land. Once he is on land, he will then make his way through the city, either on horseback or - in some notable instances - on motorbike. He is always accompanied by numerous helpers, referred to as Piete or 'Pete', who hand out pepernoten (a traditional Dutch biscuit-esque snack) to onlookers. Different towns and cities may also organise related events that allow children to interact more directly with Sinterklaas, his helpers, or even to board the boat he arrives on!




In the days leading up to December 5, or Pakjesavond, children may leave their shoes out either in front of the fireplace or by a window in the hopes of Sinterklaas leaving a gift in the shoes. On December 5 itself, Sinterklaas is expected to have delivered presents to the younger children. Older children and adult family members, can take part instead by gifting other people presents - traditionally alongside a self-written poem about the person the gift is intended for, and by disguising the gift so that you cannot discern what may be inside it (referred to as surprises). 

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