This morning, Sinterklaas arrived in The Netherlands from Spain on his steamboat, the S.S. Madrid. The dipe squad, along with thousands of other families and the Spanish ambassador, was in Scheveningen harbor to greet him. Sinterklaas lives in Spain, but he makes the boat journey to the Netherlands and Belgium with his helper, Swarte Piet, to deliver presents and goodies to all the good little children on his feast day, December 6th (except in Holland, the 5th has evolved as the big present day).
Once he disembarks and greets the crowds of singing children, Sinterklaas parades through town on his white horse and alongside his helpers dressed as Swarte Piet, who are already passing out special cookies and treats.
For the next few weeks, Sinterklaas will ride his white horse over the rooftops, listening in at chimneys to check children's behavior. Children leave their shoes by the fireplace, usually with carrots for his horse. Swarte Piet climbs down the chimney (gets covered in soot, to explain his blackness in a PC way) and leaves presents in the shoes, usually chocolates or marzipan shaped like Sinterklaas or large chocolate initials for the children's names. On December 5th, children receive their big presents from Sinterklaas. Tradition has it that the gift should be wrapped in an ingenious way, and there should be an accompanying poem written specially for the recipient.
In the meantime, Sinterklaas keeps very busy, visiting hospitals, offices, businesses, and even both houses of Parliament. Since we'll be out of the country for most of his special season, we were happy to see him twice today, once in the harbor and once during his ride through town. The children's excitement on both occasions was electric, and it was fun for us to take part in a different cultural holiday tradition.