Sinterklaas: The Fun and Terrifying Reason Dutch Kids are Well Behaved

Celebrating Sinterklaas 

Happy Sinterklaas! Did your shoe get filled with chocolate overnight? Was it on purpose or did your toddler get a hold of some old Halloween candy? Or a bottle of chocolate syrup… Either way, look at you celebrating other cultures! You go, Glen Coco!

Need a little more context? Read on.


Wooden Shoe Rather Be Dutch?

The Dutch people are wonderful and I’m proud to be a Dutch-American.

A quarter Dutch-American.

Okay, basically a US melting pot European mutt… but the most prominently displayed part of my DNA is Dutch.

My maternal grandmother, Oma, immigrated to the US in her 20s as an au pair, fell in love with my grandfather, and moved across the Atlantic. She may have left her homeland, but she brought ALL her Dutch with her.

For example, Oma has an uncanny ability to find every Dutch person currently living in North America. If you know someone who is Dutch I would be willing to bet 1 million dollars that he or she knows Oma. It’s a true gift.

Oh and have you ever had haveslosdif? It’s Dutch chocolate sprinkles that you eat on buttered bread for breakfast. Just fantastic.


Four Two Christmases

I loved growing up with close ties to another culture. It made me feel worldly and sophisticated. It also meant we got to have a mini Christmas before Christmas.

Sinterklaas is Dutch commercialized Christmas. They celebrate the Birth of Christ Christmas on the 25th in churches. Sinterklaas is celebrated on the 5th and offers up a scarier and more racist version of Santa, but with chocolate bars in the shape of your initial.

Sinterklaas travels by boat from Spain to visit the Dutch children every year. He brings with him his servant Zwarte Piet (Black Pete). Who is typically portrayed by someone wearing blackface… Um, I love you Netherlands but can we not, please? From what I have read this is finally starting to evolve so let’s fast forward progress a little.

New Version! Sinterklaas comes with his best friend Peter to visit the Dutch children. There is candy and a parade and freedom. #Equality #ComeOnNowHolland



You Better Not Pout, You Better Not Cry

You think we’re past the uncomfortable part don’t you? Oh, no my friend…

Sint, in Santa fashion, brings candy and gifts for the children and leaves them in the wooden shoes the children leave by the door. Stockings, but sturdier and less likely to melt the enclosed chocolate when hung by the chimney with care. The Dutch are smart.

But he also brings an empty sack. Because if the kids weren’t good that year they don’t get coal in their wooden shoes, they get bopped in the head with his walking stick and taken back to Spain as punishment. Let’s replay that once more. BOPPED IN THE HEAD and INTERNATIONALLY KIDNAPPED.

As a result, Dutch children are incredibly well behaved. Apparently being taken from your family feels like a real threat whereas as the gift of fossil fuels just seems like an efficient albeit not very environmentally friendly way to heat your home.


But in a Fun Way

Skipping over the wildly inappropriate/ terrifying parts, Sinterklaas is a lovely holiday and my parents continued the traditions with us as kids. We learned some Dutch songs, we ate the good Dutch cheese, and we eagerly awaited our chocolate letter each year. My brother Tom may have been the favorite kid, but both R for Rebecca and B for Becca produced more chocolate than a T. And there was just no way my family could get around that one.

I’ll take my wins where I can get them.I’m doing my best to continue the traditions with Jack and Norah but at this age and stage the best I’ve done is to sing “Sinterklaas Kapoentje” enthusiastically while frantically looking for shoes. Not wooden shoes to put by the door. Regular shoes so that we can get out of the door. I’ll rally when they are older.


With pepernoten and marzipan,

Becca Carnahan Blog





P.S. If you’re feeling all kinds of Christmasy, make sure to get involved in the Very Merry Christmas Movie Bracket going on now!

16 Replies to “Sinterklaas: The Fun and Terrifying Reason Dutch Kids are Well Behaved”

  • I’m not Dutch but I growing up I remember St. Nicholas Day where we would leave shoes out overnight and get candy. I had not idea it was this much of a to do in Dutch culture. Thanks for sharing!

  • Yep, there is St. Nick’s day in other countries other than the Netherlands, and I always remember it fondly. Erase the negative parts and focus on the best parts. I was waiting for you to point our how some kids got more chocolate than others due to the letter shape. You did not disappoint. I wonder why Spain though… I think it might have the opposite effect on me. That’s a country I would not mind getting kidnapped to.

  • To set the record straight. I’ve been gifted the chocolate “H” for a few years now.

    All I want is my fair share! All I want is what I have coming to me!

  • Oooh, so now I can tell the kids that the Elf on the Shelf is not only spying on them for Santa’s Naughty/Nice list, but to decide whether they should be kidnapped as well.

  • Hey Becca, I found your little space in the community pool, so glad I did!! amazing write up!!!keep writing and inspire us…. surely will be waiting for more!!
    Please do visit my blog when time permits, thanks in advance and see you there! 🙂

  • Ok, I know I’m a little late, but I loved reading this! It’s so much fun reading about our strange traditions, especially from people who didn’t grow up in the Netherlands. There’s a big discussion here about blackface but most people honestly don’t understand why it’s racist. Their only point is: don’t touch our tradition! I would say that if it hurts people, if only a few, you should do something about that. We pretend we’re not racist here, but secretly a lot of Dutch are. My dad’s an American and he’s been living here for 30+ years already. He always participates in the Sinterklaas tradition, but he always keeps quiet about Zwarte Piet. Because yes, it’s totally racist and black face!

    • Loved hearing your perspective on this. Thank you so much for reading! And I totally understand the traditional aspect, and also am right there with you on if it hurts even a few people, then it’s time for a change. I hope that you had a wonderful Sinterklaas! 🙂

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