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Basic Dutch: your Sinterklaas toolkit

Written by Marloes van Rooijen (Direct Dutch Institute) for

There is something in the air. The days grow colder, the nights grow longer and pepernoten and taai taai poppen increasingly dominate the supermarket shelves. Slowly but surely, it is time to prepare for the annual visit of our country’s most popular international: Sinterklaas!

Get ready to celebrate our Goedheiligman’s birthday in style: frantically wave at the stoomboot with the locals, sing your heart out in front of the central heating and surprise your Dutch friends with a charmingly provocative Sinterklaas gedicht.Here is a concise toolkit to get you started!

sinterklaas3› Sinterklaas

Sinterklaas rhymes with: – Oude baas (old boss, endearing term for an elderly man)

– Speculaas (a spiced kind of biscuit)
– Ach helaas (what a pity)
– Als ‘n haas (like a hare, meaning really fast)

Don’t confuse our our red-cloaked, white-bearded patron with his competitor Santa, for our stately, yet witty, Sinterklaas is nothing like his jolly sibling from the Arctic region.Both Saint Nicks refer back to the Saint Nicholas of Myra, who died on December 6, 343. Since the 13th century, the name day of Saint Nicolas, patron saint of children, has been celebrated in Eastern Europe, from where it quickly spread around the rest of the continent.However, our modern Dutch version of Sinterklaas, complete with Spanish castle, big steamboat (state-of-the-art transport at the time!), white horse and black friend only appeared in 1850. He was introduced in a children’s book written by a primary school teacher called Jan Schenkman.

› Stoomboot

Stoomboot (steamboat) – also known as Pakjesboot 12 (presents boat no. 12) – rhymes with:
– Reuzegroot (as big as a giant)
– Hazelnoot (hazelnut)
– Als de dood (scared to death)
– Als een malloot (like a fool)

An impressive steamship bringing Sinterklaas, the Pieten and a lot of pakjes from Madrid to the Netherlands (not as state of the art as it used to be, but still more effective than some modern trains from Southern Europe).

› De Intocht

De Intocht (the arrival of Sinterklaas) rhymes with:
– Gekocht (bought)
– Gezocht (sought)
– Verknocht (dearly attached)

Long-awaited happening somewhere mid-November, broadcast live on national TV. He will then sail into every harbour in the Netherlands. Local children will be singing, bands will be playing, Pieten will be throwing pepernoten around and the Sint will parade his white horse through every town.Click here to find out when and where the stoomboot is expected in your area.

› Piet

Piet rhymes with:
-Altijd weer hetzelfde lied (always the same song, old news).

› Zak

Zak (jute bag) rhymes with:
– Pak (present)
– Op z’n gemak (at ease)
– Niet op je gemak (not at ease)

Big jute bag used by de Pieten to first bring sweets and present from Spain to the Netherlands, and then naughty children from the Netherlands to Spain.Over the past decades, the bag’s predominant function has shifted from the second to the first one.

› Roe, krijg je met de

Roe, krijg je met de (birch, you’ll be hit with the) rhymes with:
– En hoe! (and how!)
– Komt naar je toe (travels your way)
– Veel gedoe (a lot of hassle)

Mythical instrument of mild torture, to be found only in Sinterklaasliedjes.

› Schoen

Schoen (shoe) rhymes with:

– Geen poen (no money)
– Dikke zoen (big kiss)
– Ik zeg: doen (I say go for it)
– Met pensioen (retired)

Children put out their shoes in front of the fireplace or central heating, hoping that Piet will travel down the chimney (or pipes?) at night to put a little something in their shoes. If you want to find anything in your shoe, I suggest that you start practising Sinterlaasliedjes immediately. Here is some inspiration:

– Zie ginds komt de stoomboot
– Hij komt, hij komt!
– Zie de maan schijnt door de bomen
– Dag Sinterklaasje

› Surprise

Surprise (present wrapped in home crafted object referring to the receiver) rhymes with:

– Niets te verliezen (nothing to lose)
– Veel voor je kiezen (a lot on your plate)
– Ambassadrice (female ambassador)
– Presentatrice (female presenter)
– Actrice (actress)

After recovering from the revelation that Sinterklaas is in fact a myth, bigger children and adults alike are supposed to buy a present, make a crafty wrapping and write a poem to explain their ingenious work of art. Anonymously, of course. An excellent occasion to make some good-natured fun of your friends and family!

› Gedicht

Gedicht (poem) rhymes with:

– Mooi gezicht (pretty sight)
– Geen gezicht (not a pretty sight)
– Opgelicht (ripped off)
– Goed bericht (good message)

Take your pick from the rhyming words offered in this article and spice it up with some recent anecdotes and pointy remarks – all in rhyme. Go for the personal, the embarrassing and the slightly provocative. Your Dutch friends, used to Dutch directness and rather crass humour, will love it!

Ending with a subtle touch
Of teacherly advice and such:
Hope you enjoy December much
While speaking loads and loads of Dutch