Article provided by Berlitz Schools of Languages, an IN Amsterdam partner

What is it all about? 

Sinterklaas is the beloved hero of the Dutch holiday season. The character is a precursor to Santa Claus, who first appeared after the Dutch colonisation of the Americas. In the Netherlands, Sinterklaas sails into town on 5 December each year to parade through the streets on a horse. The evening (sinterklaasavond) is the time for festive feasting, and one tradition in particular that fills Dutch holiday season rookies with dread – the Sinterklaas gift exchange. Added to the pressure of finding the perfect small-yet-thoughtful gift, tradition requires the giver to craft and perform a poem – in Dutch – and yes, it needs to rhyme. If you’re still learning, this can be an intimidating prospect. In reality, the mere willingness to give it a go and a few basic sentences can get you through, and win over the in-laws as you do it. Here are our tips for writing your first Sinterklaas poem. 

Make it personal

Before the big day, you’ll draw names to determine who you’re buying a present for, and the better you know this person, the greater your shot at delivering a winning poem. Often Sinterklaas poems address the recipient in a humorous, warm and touching way, while some families take a more playful, mocking tone (proceed with caution!). Think about their interests, quirks, characteristics or future plans. You can also drop hints about the gift they’re about to unwrap. 

Put pen to paper

As far as poetic structure is concerned, as long as it rhymes, it works. A great many websites, online resources and “Sinterklaas poem generators” exist to help start you off. And, while these are great for beginner-level Dutch, as your vocabulary grows, you’ll feel more comfortable crafting something more original. Unfortunately, native Dutch speakers will see right through your computer-generated attempt! 

Wrap it up 

The wrapping itself is an important part of the event, as families go to great lengths to personalise their gifts with craft-project embellishments. Forget Christmas trees and glittery snowflakes – the wrapping ‘concept’ should represent the recipients’ hobbies or personality – think maps to acknowledge their travel plans, a favourite cartoon character or their football team’s colours. 

Enlist the experts

Dutch group courses such as those offered by Berlitz Schools of Languages can greatly improve your confidence in conversational Dutch. They also enrich your knowledge and understanding of Dutch culture and social conventions, going a long way to helping international residents to feel at home in the Netherlands. By providing an encouraging learning environment, small groups of no more than eight participants per class and experienced native-Dutch teachers, Berlitz Schools of Languages has a high success rate in language fluency. The lessons focus on practical examples with a strong emphasis on speaking. All of which sets the foundation for your burgeoning success as a Sinterklaas poet – succes!  

Find out more about IN Amsterdam’s partnership programme.