The story goes that the Saint came by boat to the Netherlands from Spain, bringing with him his mischievous, Moorish helpers, Zwarte Pieten (Black Peters). And this continues today, with Sinterklaas arriving at the end of November, making his way across the low countries, visiting each town. Wearing red cape and white, flowing gowns underneath, Sinterklaas arrives on his grey horse, Amerigo. The children sing traditional songs to welcome him, and the Zwarte Pieten hand out sweets and gingerbread like cookies called pepernoten. (There are huge debates currently raging about Zwarte Pieten: if it is politically incorrect or offensive. Most Dutch people think the debate is ridiculous. However, they've come up with a PC reason for Zwarte Piet - poor old Piet is covered in coal dust from the fireplaces when delivering gifts...)
|Sinterklaas on Amerigo with Zwarte Pieten on Terschelling|
What I really like about this holiday is that there are loads of songs and there is a real "togetherness" in the whole spectacle. It is also quite creative, with poems, surprises, and music. Now it is also a huge thing on television, with live coverage of Sinterklaas' arrival, and programs especially devoted to games and song.
Traditions vary across the Netherlands and Belgium, but this is essentially what happens during the beginning of December, as far as I understand it. So, Prettige Sinterklaas, allemaal!