I slowly crept up the stairs using all the stealth skills that I like to think I have but don’t. The sack over my shoulder made an awkward rustling sound as one of the gifts inside shifted. It struck me that burlap sacks are not the best option when you are trying to carry something quietly. However, they are part of the tradition. The Piet hat that I was wearing was also part of the tradition. I didn’t actually have to wear it since I would not be seen but I’d wanted to wear it anyway.
I reached the top of the stairs and slowly lowered the sack, placing it quietly against the front door of our upstairs neighbours (as asked). Slowly and carefully I drew my hands back from the sack but kept them just a few inches away for a moment, as if trying to mentally will the sack to stay in place. Once I was satisfied that it was not going anywhere I slowly stood up and began to turn around. At that moment the sack suddenly decided to make a break for it. It began sliding sideways down the door, threatening to send toys crashing down the stairs.
In a clumsy, frantic movement I quickly grabbed the falling sack just in time and froze. Staying as still as possible I listened. Had I been heard? Was my cover blown? Would I have to leg it? If I was caught in a position like this the neighbours would either have to explain the reality of the situation to their children or tell them that buurman Stuart had just been caught trying to steal toys.
When a moment had passed without the sounds of children running towards the door I quietly repositioned the bag, making sure it would not fall again and breathed a sigh of relief. I imagined this is what bomb disposal experts feel like when they are trying not to blow themselves up.
With everything in place I took a handful of pepernoten out of my pocket and got ready for stage two. I’d been asked to bang on the door as loud as I could to, “really scare the shit out of the kids.” Given the way the apartment building stairwell echoed I was probably about to really scare the shit out of everyone else in the building as well. Luckily, it was pakjesavond so they would probably realize it was a Piet delivering toys… hopefully.
I raised my free hand back as far as I could and then brought it crashing down on the door. Boom! Boom! Boom! Three times. Damn it hurt my hand. They have a hard door. I had no time to think about the pulsating in my hand. I had to get out of there before the door was opened by very excited (and maybe slightly terrified) children. I started running down the stairs, tripped, grabbed the banister and somehow managed used the momentum to swing myself around to the second set of stairs. It would have been graceful if it had not looked so clumsy.
From my new position I waited, out of view. My escape exit back into our own apartment was close but there was one last thing to do; The pepernoten! From above I heard the door open and I flung the pepernoten upwards in an arc in the general direction next to it. I couldn’t see my target so I could only hope that I didn’t accidentally take out a surprised child’s eye with a flying pepernoten. The lack of screaming told me I had not.
As the children gasped in amazement at the sacks of gifts (and the pepernoten that had just been thrown at them by a fleeing Piet) I slowly crept back into our apartment as my wife (Piet accomplice) quietly closed the door behind me. For a while we listened to the children’s reactions from behind the closed door and giggled.
“Dank u Sinterklaasje! Dank u Piet!” the children shouted from upstairs.
“PIET!” shouted our daughter from next to us as she pointed in excitement at the hat I was wearing.
It was the first time I had ever been asked to stand in for a Piet. I think this officially means I work for Sinterklaas now. At the very least it must mean that I am more integrated into Dutch culture now. What do you think?
November and December can be a very confusing time of year for expats in Holland, especially for those who have never heard the name Sinterklaas or seen a Zwarte Piet before.
Who is Sinterklaas?
If you were to ask a Dutch Person who Sinterklaas is the basic description you’d receive would be something along the lines of, “He is a very nice old man who has a long white beard, dresses in red and gives presents in December to all the good girls and boys.”
Sinterklaas vs. Santa
Whatever you do, do not follow this up by asking them how that makes him any different from Santa, not unless you want to seriously damage diplomatic relations between Holland and your own country. Santa and Sinterklaas are two very different people. They just happen to work in the same area of business. There are several very key differences for identifying them:
1) Santa Claus comes from the North Pole but Sinterklaas comes from Spain and saves money on his yearly heating bill.
2) Santa Claus dresses in red with a fluffy white trim but Sinterklaas goes with the slightly more fashionable gold trim and accessorizes with a staff.
3) Santa Claus delivers presents on the night of December 24th but Sinterklaas arrives in Holland in the middle of November, does some sightseeing, delivers presents on the 5th of December and returns home in time to enjoy a quiet Christmas.
4) Santa Claus flies to his destination but Sinterklaas arrives by steam boat. It is still unknown if this difference is because Sinterklaas is afraid of flying or Santa is afraid of water.
5) Santa Claus rides on a sledge pulled by 12 over worked reindeer but Sinterklaas rides a single white horse called Amerigo, saves money on animal feed and has to remember less names.
6) Santa Claus puts presents for children under a Christmas tree but Sinterklaas puts presents in children’s shoes regardless of how smelly they are.
7) Santa Claus has an elf equal opportunities program which has helped keep the fairytale creature unemployment rate down. Sinterklaas also has an equal opportunities program and employs Zwarte Pieten who suffer from A.D.D and regularly get their shoe polish mixed up with their face cream.
8) Santa Claus gives a lump of coal to children who have been naughty so that they might learn from their mistakes. Sinterklaas on the other hand has a zero tolerance policy and orders Zwarte Piet to throw naughty children into a sack and drag them back to Spain while beating them with twigs.
Looking for more? Find a full list of all humorous sinterklaas guides and posts right here: All About Sinterklaas
This comic is based on the true story
of the time I really wrote to Sinterklaas (and got a reply
It first appeared in the November/December edition of DUTCH:The Magazine
, a bi-monthly magazine for Dutch descendants and expats living in Canada.
We all know that the tradition of Sinterklaas can sometimes be confusing for expats who are unfamiliar with it. The responsible thing to do would be to truth-ally explain the many interesting details and facts about the much loved Dutch tradition and leave it at that… But sometimes it’s just fun to mess with them and make stuff up.
Welcome to; Lies About The Dutch – The Sinterklaas Edition!
- Sinterklaas and Santa were once business partners but after several disagreements about whether they should locate their place of business in a cold climate or a warm climate they went their separate ways.
- No one realizes that Sinterklaas’ horse Amerigo is the real brains behind the operation. He controls everything.
- Sinterklaas and Santa are actually the same person but due to EU regulations he has to assume different identities for different countries. That’s why you’ve never seen them in the same room together… Think about it.
- The Zwarte Piet once lost Sinterklaas’ naughty book and in a panic replaced it with a phone book. This went unnoticed for three years until the real book was recovered.
- Sinterklaas used to place the children’s presents in their shoes himself. However, after passing out several times due to particularly bad smelling shoes he decided it was best to let the Pieten do it instead.
- There are in fact only four Zwarte Pieten. It is an optical illusion that makes it look like there are more.
- During the summer months the steam boat is used to give tours around the coast of Spain to tourists.
- Sinterklaas used to traditionally dress in white until one day when he accidentally mixed one of his red socks in with his laundry.
- Sinterklaas and Santa once spent five hours stuck down the same chimney while a team of elves and Zwarte Pieten tried to get them out. It was very awkward.
All these lies have probably put me in Sinterklaas’ naughty book.
So if you are looking for the truth about the Sint check out:
or find the full list of posts at