Sinterklaas and six to eight black men
Sinterklaas, aka Saint Nicholas, and his ‘Zwarte Pieten’ arrived in the Netherlands. Instead of Santa Claus we celebrate Sinterklaas on December 5. Why December 5? He has his birthday on that day.
Now I can give you a lengthy explanation of Saint Nicholas Day in the Netherlands, but David Sedaris wrote a much better story about Saint Nicholas Day and his helpers, the ‘Six to Eight Black Men’. You can read that here. Of course there is also a Wikipedia post that you can find here.
While our Santa flies on a sled, Saint Nicholas arrives by boat
and then transfers to a white horse. The event is televised, and
great crowds gather at the waterfront to greet him. I’m not sure
if there’s a set date, but he generally docks in late November and
spends a few weeks hanging out and asking people what they want.
Young children, dressed up as ‘Zwarte Pieten’, wait with anxiety and joy.
“Is it just him alone?” I asked. “Or does he come with backup?”
Oscar’s English was close to perfect, but he seemed thrown by a
term normally reserved for police reinforcement.
“Helpers,” I said. “Does he have any elves?”
Maybe I’m just overly sensitive, but I couldn’t help but feel
personally insulted when Oscar denounced the very idea as grotesque
and unrealistic. “Elves,” he said. “They’re just so silly.”
The words silly and unrealistic were redefined when I learned that
Saint Nicholas travels with what was consistently described as “six
to eight black men.” I asked several Dutch people to narrow it
down, but none of them could give me an exact number. It was always
“six to eight,” which seems strange, seeing as they’ve had hundreds
of years to get a decent count.
One of the six to eight black men, with some police reinforcement.
Unlike the jolly, obese American Santa, Saint Nicholas is painfully
thin and dresses not unlike the pope, topping his robes with a tall
hat resembling an embroidered tea cozy. The outfit, I was told, is
a carryover from his former career, when he served as a bishop in
This is the reward for the arrival of Saint Nicholas, pepernoten.
All photographs by Wouter Brandsma
Quotes from ‘Six To Eight Black Men’ By David Sedaris