Sinter Klaas was Saint Nicholas, who originated from Turkey, or Spain, or Morocco, or something. His birthday is celebrated on 5th December every year, and he arrives by steamboat to every town in the Netherlands about three weeks beforehand. Every night from his arrival until the first week of December, children leave their shoes out to receive "snoepje" (candy/sweets) the next morning... probably tasting mildly of stale socks.
Anywho, so we cycled uphill to get to Scheveningensehaven (say that ten times fast - even just once or twice. I dare you) to watch Sinter Klaas arriving on his steamboat. Unfortunately, the head-on wind slowed our progress down, so we missed the actual arrival and only caught one glimpse of the Sint before we had to elbow our way through the throngs of eager parents and bright-eyed little people (mostly dressed as Zwarte Piet).
Sinter Klaas arrives on his boat... with his black man servants (generally white men dipped in shoe polish). Tons of Zwarte Pieten accompany the single Sinter Klaas on a parade through the streets of each town. Kids dress up to look like Sinter or Zwarte. Most mimic the latter - probably because it means painting yourself like a licorice stick. Good, bad, hmm... certainly controversial.
There are songs, and balloons and sweets and lots of waving of arms and singing along to kids songs - similar to Christmas carols, but more interactive. Quite an atmosphere. Not sure if it's something for non-parents to do, but at least I can say I've been in the middle of it. Literally.
Word of warning: do not get between a new mom and Sinter Klaas. It's like trying to face down a traumatised rhino. Next time I do something like that, I'm taking along an empty pram to give me more weight in the scrum.
Sinter Klaas is NOT Santa Clause. Dutch kids know about Christmas, know about Santa Clause - and know he's not real. Sinter Klaas, however, is. It's a huge build up.
The final evening - 5th December - sees friends and family getting together to exchange gifts, accompanied by entertaining/sarcastic/bitingly honest poems or riddles read out loud about the receivers. I'm told that Christmas sort of comes and goes without much notice.
Fortunately, Mills and I will be here for Sinter Klaas and in SA for Santa Clause... the best of both worlds.