A Royal House for Saint Nicholas

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The moment all children in the Netherlands yearly are waiting for: the arrival of Saint Nicholas (Sinterklaas he is usually called here). Halfway November he arrives by steamer with his many helpers. While the youngest children think he is really existing, the elder children still shout “Sinterklaas” or “Piet” and are looking forward to all the sweets and presents.

Usually the steamer with all passengers arrives from Spain in a place in the Netherlands, where there is a huge audience. So not this year. He was still allowed to come from Spain on 14 November, but because of Covid-19 he has to be celebrated differently than in other years. Thus no big reception, but the people creating the day had invented something different. Of course he can’t travel through the country, and meet with lots of people, but I already saw videos of theatres, drive-throughs, and video calling, and somewhere he even made a helicopter flight to “meet” the children. The arrival of course was live on television and more people than ever (2.225.000 people) watched the broadcast. It turned out the boat arrived in Elburg.

The huge “Grotepietenhuis” (Huge House of the Pieten), the residence of St. Nicholas until he leaves the country after his birthday celebration in the evening of 5 December (his actual birthday is on 6 December), when presents are being distributed, for many of us is quite familiar. He will stay at Soestdijk Palace, until 2004 the residence of Queen Juliana and Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands. The residence of Sinterklaas was kept silent until shortly beforehand, so people wouldn’t gather in front of the gates to have a look. Of course, despite of the rain, many people with children tried to spot St Nicholas on Sunday. But neither St Nicholas or the Pieten were visible.

Like a lot of people this year Sinterklaas is working from home and after arrival he received small delegations of children and mayors from all over the Netherlands (some fictive places). There was a real defilé like in the old days of Queen Juliana on Queen’s Day, and St Nicholas sat on Julianas usual place on top of the stairs. The children were able to offer their drawings and presents to St Nicholas. As usual the broadcast was quite funny, with lots of small jokes. Of course everybody tried to keep the 1,5 meters distance. I hope you’ll be able to have a look here. The Pieten deliver presents and sweets all over the country at night in the coming weeks.

FYI We are trying to adjust the St Nicholas celebration as many found the Zwarte Pieten (black Peters) discriminating. They were already called Piet(en) for years anyway, so they’ve lost a bit of skin colour now. No longer black, but dirty, because of soot of the steamer and the chimneys they have to deliver their presents through.

Sinterklaasjournaal

Apparently this wasn’t King Willem-Alexander cycling through the corridors of the Palace, but he looked a bit like it.

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