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Public holidays in the Netherlands

Saint Nicholas' Eve & Saint Nicholas's Day

Sinterklaas with Zwarte Pieten in Utrecht, until 2018

St. Nicholas' eve (Pakjesavond or sinterklaasavond) takes place annually on the evening before St. Nicholas Day (December 6) and is often celebrated with family or friends. Pakjesavond is particularly typical of the Dutch version of the story of Nicholas. Saints' songs are sung and Sinterklaas - also called Sint - visits the children with their pieten (companions of Saint Nicholas) at home with a sack of presents.


Pakjesavond was relatively unknown before the Second World War. Originally it was the evening Sinterklaas brought the presents, and the children found them on the morning of December 6th. Even then children put their shoes outside the door and sang songs. Shortly after the Second World War, it was usual for most families to put their shoes on the doorstep.

Home visit from Sinterklaas with Zwarte Piet

However, growing prosperity after the war has created more room for a culture of giving. Parents initially gave home-made gifts to their children and nowadays usually buy presents. Since then, adults have usually given themselves anonymously, with or without a Nicholas poem or as a surprise packaged. Often lottery raffles anonymously determine who needs to buy a gift. Sinterklaas dices are a particular variant.

Incidentally, unlike other countries, the Dutch Sinterklaas does not come from Turkey. The children are told that he comes from Spain with the stoomboot (steamboat). In recent years, his followers, the Pieten, have been renamed. For decades Zwarte Pieten made up in black and had red lipstick, also wore golden earrings, black curls, cap with feather and ruff (lace collar). Since this was very much in line with 19th-century slave portrayals, an intense discussion led to them becoming the roetveegpieten (soot wipe Piets/soot mark Piets).

Intocht Sinterklaas

Sinterklaas arrives annually in the Netherlands between the 13th and 25th of November. One thing in advance: Sinterklaas arrives in many cities. The "national" arrival (intocht) of Sinterklaas is televised and always takes place at a newly selected location. The arrival of Sinterklaas is shown on television on various Dutch television channels.

Sinterklaas arrives by steamboat, followed by many small messengers, mooring at a quay wall and then taking a route through the city. Thousands of children (with their parents) are standing by the roadside to wave and get some candy. Pieten run criss-cross throughout the route to give children pepernoten or other sweets. This event concludes with a speech for the children.

Of course, the Sint will perform in many other cities in the Netherlands with his horse and Pieten.

If the place has no river, canal or other waters, then Sinterklaas comes with another means of transport. In 2019 he will arrive in Apeldoorn by train.


Children believe until about 8 years firmly to Saint Nicholas. On television they see the Sinterklaasjournal every day and from the arrival of Nicholas in the Netherlands put shoes on the door, often with a carrot for the horse of Nicholas. Incidentally, the horse's name is Amerigo. The carrot often, but not always, disappears the next morning and there is a small present in the shoe.

What is part of it?

Chocoladeletters & snoepgoed
From October on, many shops sell chocolate letters. It is a typical Dutch sweet traditionally given away to Sinterklaas. The recipient gets the first letter of the first name.

A surprise (French pronounced as a surprise) is a gift given between older children or adults as part of the Nicholas' Eve or other Sinterklaas celebrations in the Netherlands. With paper-mâché and other materials, some of the right packaging artworks are created to house the gift. It is often home-made and presented with a Sinterklaas poem. The surprise and the poem often refer to an interesting property of the recipient or an event of the last year. Who has to give a surprise, is usually determined by a raffle.

Sinterklaas poem
It is common that not only gifts but also poems are exchanged at a Sinterklaas celebration. In terms of content, these are events of the last year or characteristics of the recipient. The poem will be read aloud.

What is what: Snoepgoed, pepernoten & kruidnoten

top left: Pepernoten; top right: Kruidnoten; Middle: Amandelstaaf; bottom left: Schuimpjes; bottom right: Kruidnoten with chocolate coating

If you go shopping in the Netherlands between October and December, you will find that many sweets are intended for Sinterklaas.

In addition to the eye-catching chocolate letters, various sweets are offered:

Pepernoten are made from rye flour with honey and anise and have an irregular shape.

Kruidnoten are baked from dough, which consists of sugar and wheat flour and contains many gingerbread spices. There are also kruidnoten with a chocolate or sugar coating. Wrongly, kruidnoten are often called pepernoten, but this is wrong.

Schuimpjes are (soft) sweets, a sweet foam or a sponge-like sweets that are made in a variety of colors and shapes (to match the theme). The ingredients are mainly sugar and gelatin.

In the Netherlands, packaging with so-called strooigoed can be bought. These contain many sweets (snoepgoed) such as pepernoten, kruidnoten and schuimpjes. The name comes from "scattering" (strooien), i.e. sweets throwing. Children have caught and eaten the thrown strooigoed in the past. Nowadays it is more common to give the strooigoed into children's hands.

An amandelstaaf or banquetstaaf is a pastry that consists of puff pastry and spijs. Spijs is a mixture of almonds and sugar, i.e. a raw marzipan mass.

A borstplaat is also called suikerwerk and is a candy made from water or milk, sugar and an aroma like vanilla or cocoa. In the past, sugar was only obtained from sugar cane in the Netherlands and was, therefore, an expensive product. It was only used on special occasions such as Sinterklaas. Confectioners processed the sugar into sugar animals and other motifs.

Gift ideas

Many shops and supermarkets have a large supply of Sinterklaas cadeaus, chocoladeletters, and snoepgoed. In some cities, pepernoten shops open even at times.

Albert Heijn has built a very nice website and also offers various tasty things for the horse Amerigo...


Even the horse of Sinterklaas deserves a present after all the journeys over the roofs. Put a carrot, an apple and some hay in your shoe and who knows, you might get a very nice gift for it.

Albert Heijn

HEMA certainly has one of the cheapest and biggest deals. For small (daily) gifts you should look there and order online. If you want to order cheap toys, you should definitely visit Amazon Prime.

Holiday or no holiday?

Pakjesavond and sinterklaasdag are not public holidays in the Netherlands. At pakjesavond, however, many shops are closed nationwide, employees have previously been free, and many restaurants are closed. Also, this is a children's event, it has a big impact on life.



Intocht Sinterklaas - The arrival of Saint Nicholas in the Netherlands:

Apeldoorn (national arrival) https://www.apeldoorn.nl/sint2019 Saturday, November 16, 2019
Amsterdam https://www.sintinamsterdam.nl/ Sunday, November 17, 2019
Delft https://sinterklaasdelft.nl/ Saturday, November 23, 2019
The Hague (Scheveningen) https://www.sinterklaasindenhaag.nl/ Saturday, November 16, 2019
Utrecht http://www.intochtutrecht.nl/ Sunday, November 17, 2019