…for those who are not Dutch.
A vintage Sinterklaas postcard
Sinterklaas is a traditional Winter holiday figure still celebrated today in the Low Countries, including the Netherlands and Belgium, as well as French Flanders (Lille) and Artois (Arras). The feast celebrates the name day of Saint Nicholas — patron saint of children. Sinterklaas is the basis for the North American figure of Santa Claus.
In the Netherlands, Saint Nicholas’ Eve on 5 December, became the chief occasion for gift-giving during the Christmas season. For Dutch and Belgian children, it is customary to put one shoe in front of the fireplace from the day Sinterklaas arrives in the Netherlands, usually in the third week of November, sing Sinterklaas songs and go to bed. A carrot and/or hay, an apple, etc. may put in the shoe as a treat for Sinterklaas’ horse. The next morning the carrot would be gone and the children may find candy or a small present in their shoes. Drawings made by the children are put into the shoes as a present to Sinterklaas.
On the evening of 5 December, the main presents will somehow arrive, or a note will be “found” that explains where in house the presents were hidden by Zwarte Piet who left a burlap sack with them. Sometimes a neighbor will knock on the door and leave the sack outside for the children to retrieve; this varies per family.
In Dutch families where children are too old to believe in Sinterklaas, Christmas is often celeberated instead. However, usually there is a period of a few years in between where 5 December is still celebrated, but the family members give each other (chosen by sortition) a special present called a “surprise”, A gift in a personalized wrapping concept that often comes with a poem.