The Story of Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas) & Zwarte Piet (Black Peter)

Even though we are only days away from being visited by children dressed as ghosts, witches and goblins wanting lots of candy, my mind is already on to the next big holiday in my family. No it’s not Thanksgiving…it’s Sinterklaas!

Being married to a Dutchman has opened my eyes to all sorts of things, like eating mayonnaise on french fries, salty licorice, chocolate sprinkles sandwiches, and Sinterklaas. 

So who is this guy any ways? 


On December 5th in the Netherlands, children are visited by Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas) and Zwarte Piet (Black Peter). According to legend, Sinterklaas is very rich and lives in a castle in Spain. In mid-November, he travels by steamship to the Netherlands with all of his helpers, Zwarte Piets, and the gifts for the children. When arrives, he departs his ship and travels through the country on Amerigo, his white horse, and all of the Zwarte Piets accompany him.


Sinterklaas wears a long red cape, a white bishop’s dress and a red bishop’s hat. He also holds a long gold-colored staff with a curled top. Sinterklaas carries a big book that tells whether each individual child has been good or naughty in the past year. 

Zwarte Piet, has a black face and hands because he enters the house through the chimney. Sinterklaas and his Zwarte Piets usually carry a bag with candy and gifts for nice children, and willow branches used to spank naughty children.


On Sinterklaasavond (St. Nicholas’ Eve), Dutch children and adults alike sing Sinterklaas songs. Tradition holds that children fill their wooden shoes with carrots, straw or sugar cubes for Amerigo, and in return it will be filled with candy, oranges, and pepernoten, a gingerbread-like cookie.  Sometime in the evening, there will be a loud knock on the door or the window, and a sack full of presents from Sinterklaas is found on the doorstep, or next to the chimney. Sinterklaas has arrived!


And that, my friends, is why it’s cool to be married to a Dutchman.

(Photos by Teresa Meijerink Photography)


6 thoughts on “The Story of Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas) & Zwarte Piet (Black Peter)

  1. Hi!

    I know this was posted a year ago already but I’m hoping someone can still help 🙂

    I have the big red book that’s in the first couple of photos… I love it, its so cute! I bought it on a trip to Nederland 2 years ago in an attempt to explain Sint to my friends. Swarte Piet is a bit of a tricky subject sometimes…

    So, I’m wondering whats going on in the spread with the large house with all the extra Sints running around. They look a bit like “imposter” Sints, lol. But because the book has no words, just pictures, its left up to interpretation… No one in my large Dutch family can quite figure it out… Maybe you know??


    • Thanks for your reply, it gave me the push I have needed to go in and start blogging again. 🙂

      I love Charlotte Dematons’ Sinterklaas book, too. My husband is Dutch and I am an American, so observing December 5th has become one of my favorite holidays to celebrate now (along with eating croquetten and patat—yum!). Learning to like drop (Dutch licorice) took awhile, though. Honing drop is awesome, but you can keep the zoute drop…a friend best described it as like you are eating a gym sock. Just kidding…

      I understand what you mean about explaining the story of Sinterklaas; it definitely makes for interesting questions once you get around to Piet.

      I have to agree with you and your family’s interpretation of that particular illustration. We think it is a bunch of people dressed as Sint that are having a huge party. However, if anyone else out there who is familiar with the story of Sint or Dematons’ book; please leave a comment with your thoughts. Aren’t Dematons’ illustrations amazing, though?

      Also, in the spirit of the upcoming season, Sint and Piet will arrive next Saturday in Harderwijk. I bet all the Piets are loading the steamboat with gifts in Spain as we speak!

  2. How do I purchased the story of Sinterklaas. I want to read a story to my second grade class about leaving wooden clogs out for Sinterklaas and have a very cute art project to follow up with. I have found a few stories but none of them translated into English. I’m sure they are out there, I just don’t know where to look or what books to look for. Any suggestions?

    • What a cute idea! I found a copy of the book for sale on Amazon:

      The good thing with this book is that it is pictures only (the illustrations are amazing), so you can tell the story to your students as you flip through the book. All of my other Sinterklass books are in Dutch. Good luck, and feel free to send me some pictures to share if at all possible. My mother was a first grade teacher, so I can appreciate your work and all the creative things you are doing for your students! Tot ziens!

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