Gifts, candy and coziness: How did internationals celebrate Sinterklaas?

Last Friday night, on December the 5th, many Dutch families got together to celebrate the traditional holiday of Sinterklaas, which involves candy, presents and poems. Did the many international students on the Erasmus University celebrate it as well, and is there also a similar holiday in their home countries?

Natalie Bencurova (24), Master student Marketing from Slovakia    

“I stayed at home in Rotterdam during Sinterklaas, and had a nice evening together with my roommates and Dutch landlords. They told us all about your traditions and sang several Sinterklaas songs, but I was of course unable to sing along with them. It was fun, however, just like the typically Dutch goodies were. Kruidnoten are delicious, just as Taai-Taai – did I pronounce that right? – which was quite hard to chew. We stuck to candy and didn’t buy gifts, student life is already expensive enough as it is. I really enjoyed celebrating Sinterklaas, it is familiar from my home country, where we celebrate the birthday of Saint Nicholas on the 6th of November. It’s a really nice piece of culture, getting cosy and eating sweets with your loved ones is what the winter holiday season is all about.”      

Kathi Eicke (left) & Saskia Schäfer (both 25 years old), Master students International Management from Germany

Kathi: “This year I didn’t celebrate Sinterklaas in the Netherlands, but I did several teams in previous years during my Bachelor, so I know a lot about it. I even wrote a poem in Dutch, and people understood it quite well! In Germany, the 5th of December is only a warm-up for Weihnachten (the German name for Christmas). We only get some candy and mandarins from Nikolaus, but we save the real presents for Christmas. Therefore, when you put your shoe beneath the chimney, you also have to put in your wish list in it, so that Nikolaus can give it to Santa Claus. It’s strange and funny to see that for a lot of Dutch people, Sinterklaas is a bigger, even more important holiday than Christmas.”

Saskia: “There are quite a few similarities between the Dutch and German traditions, it’s both on December 5th, and there is a lot of candy involved. The differences are quite apparent as well: we don’t really get any presents, and in Germany, the helper of Nikolaus isn’t a funny, jolly black guy like he is over here. Instead, he’s mean and punishes you when you’ve been bad. I wasn’t in Rotterdam last weekend, so me and my friends didn’t really do anything about Sinterklaas either. The only thing we did is eat a lot of sweets, mostly kruidnoten covered in chocolate. Almost everyone thinks the white ones are most delicious, so if you don’t watch out, they’re gone in no time!”

Laci Kobulsky (25), Master student Marketing from Slovakia    

“I celebrated Sinterklaas in Utrecht with friends, and I was the only non-Dutchie. The poems were all in Dutch, so I didn’t understand much of it. We bought each other presents, but since we’re obviously all poor students, there was a limit of 5 euros. It was mostly about eating candy and having drinks while we wore Sinterklaas hats. Unfortunately, Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet couldn’t join us themselves. I heard there’s a heated discussion about the allegedly racist character of Zwarte Piet in the Netherlands, which surprises me. He’s happy and enjoys doing his job, and he happens to be black, what’s racist about that? I wish his helper was like that in Slovakia, where we also celebrate the holiday of Saint Nicholas. Unlike the jolly, friendly guy that accompanies your Sinterklaas, his Slovakian assistant punishes you when you’ve been bad by giving you onions and potatoes instead of candy. You guys are lucky not to have that!” MvS