When in Delft, do as the Dutch. That means celebrating the winter holiday of Sinterklaas, celebrated on December 5th. Sinterklaas is an elderly man in stately robes who arrives in the Netherlands from Spain every year by boat and tells children if they’ve been naughty or nice. As with any family holiday, food and quirky customs are a big part of the fun. Here’s what you need to know to become a part of the action.
Literally translated to chocolate letter, the tradition dates back to the 16th century, when convents carved bread in the shape of letters to teach children the alphabet. Today, chocolate letters in the shape of their initials are given to children on Sinterklaas. Reportedly, over 20 million letters are produced each year in the Netherlands. At the Leonidas chocolate shop on Choorstraat you can get your initials in rich Belgian chocolate (dark, milk and white) for €6.50. They also have chocolate Sinterklaas statues (€2 – €6). If you’re looking for chocolate letters that are a little more pocket friendly, try Kruidvat (€1.09) or C1000 (€0.50). “Traditionally, mothers or grandmothers buy the letters for children to eat on the morning of December 5,” explains Els Hoogendjk, who works at Leonidas.
If Delft has been smelling like heaven of late, it’s probably because of these confectionary delights. Speculaas are traditional biscuits made with a heady cocktail of spices – nutmeg, cloves, ginger, cinnamon and cardamom. Kruidnoten are smaller, bite sized speculaas. Nowadays, chocolate kruidnoten are also popular, and available at chocolate shops and supermarkets across Delft. For the more traditional ones, try Bakker Jaap, a bakery behind the Markt. A packet costs €2.25 and you’ll be heading back for more. In fact, bakeries across the city and even Albert Heijn have a variety of cookies in stock right now.A sip of the spirit
Though Glühwein may be the order of the season, Simon Levelt, a quaint tea shop on the Markt has some Sinterklaas specials to offer. Their Sinterklaas tea (€3.95) is flavoured with cinnamon and the Zwarte Pieten tea (€4.95) tastes like a hot sip of speculaas. “These are our most popular teas at this time of the year. We order about 20 kilos of both teas and by December 4th, we have only two or three packets left,” explains Helen Taylor, who was managing the store when we visited.
Oranges, especially mandarin oranges are a big part of the season. It is said that Sinterklaas brings a batch of the sweetest oranges when he comes from Spain. Don’t worry if you miss his boat though, because fruit shops here will be importing special oranges just for the holiday. “We will be importing oranges from Morrocco, the finest, sweetest oranges you can find,” says Abdoel Hillali, of ’t Fruithuisje.
Gifts and gifting
Gifts are a big part of the holiday as well. Children leave their shoes next to the fireplace in the hope that Sinterklaas will leave them some presents. “Children put some things inside their shoes. It could be a little hay for Sinterklaas’s horse, maybe a gift or a poem for him as well,” says Elline De Jong of Dozijn, a gift shop tucked into a tiny corner at Papenstraat. They also sell seasonal wrapping paper and decorations. De Winkel, on Vrouw Juttenland, which calls itself the ‘most entertaining gift shop in Delft’ has hand crafted decorations for the seasons – from gorgeous tiny ballerinas to gawking frogs and crazy clowns (€12.50). Don’t worry about stretching your budget though, you can find great decorations and gifts at the Museum Shop of the Botanical Garden of TU Delft, where TU students get a 10% discount.
So start stocking up and have a happy Sinterklaas!