Children and adults attended the 80th arrival of Sinterklaas and his servants from Spain in Amsterdam on Sunday.
While Saturday saw 30,000 people celebrating their official arrival in the Netherlands in Zaanstad, 400,000 gathered on Sunday in Amsterdam. “I like to call the other arrivals the ‘fake ones’,” said Pam Evenhuis, spokesperson for Sint in Amsterdam, which organises the Amsterdam event. The arrival of Sinterklaas in Amsterdam is the largest one in the world. However, the main celebration will be on December 5, his birthday, one day before Sinterklaas’ departure.
During the day, 43 boats moved through the canals and about 350 Petes accompanied Sinterklaas starting from 10 a.m. They distributed more than 4,000 kilos of sweets to the children. This was made possible with the help of 1,200 volunteers.
As part of the tradition, mayor Femke Halsema presented Sinterklaas with the key to Amsterdam at the Maritime Museum at noon.
The parade ended in chants and dances at the Dam Square. People started to gather at 1 p.m., but it wasn’t until 3 p.m. that Sinterklaas arrived. The legendary figures’ entrance to Dam Square followed a 6-kilometer-long boat trip which passed under 8 bridges.
60-year-old Marija Brandenburg came from Amersfoort to see the arrival of Sinterklaas. “I really like it so far,” she explained. “I came here only for the day to be with my grandchildren.” Mostly families stayed during the whole event at Dam Square. Like Brandenburg, Amsterdam citizen Willemien Trommel, 33, was also there for the first time with her 3-year-old daughter. “She was really into it (Sinterklaas) this year,” she said, talking about her daughter. “That’s why I decided to come.”
For Evenhuis, this year’s arrival of Sinterklaas did not differ from the previous one. “Only the weather,” he said. “It is cold but very beautiful.”
Since last year, Sinterklaas’ companion Zwarte Piet (‘Black Pete’ in English) has been using a new suit and a new wig designed to de-emphasise the aspects of his costume, which is often criticized for being racist. “Pete doesn’t have a curly wig now,” explains Evenhuis.
In the last couple of years, the color of Sinterklaas’ servants, originally black, has become a permanent subject of controversy in the Netherlands. “The period of slavery is, to put it mildly, a stain on Dutch history,” reads a press release from Sint in Amsterdam. Since 2014, the organizers have changed the appearance of Zwarte Piet: he will no longer be represented with outdated black stereotypes. Instead of blackface, Pete’s face will instead be covered in soot stains from passing through the chimney. However, according to Evenhuis, only in Amsterdam was this change fully introduced.
Earlier on Sunday, 48 pro-Zwarte Piet demonstrators were arrested for disrupting public order during the arrival of Sinterklaas in Tilburg. On Saturday, other disruptions and arrests also took place in Leeuwarden, Rotterdam, The Hague, and Eindhoven.
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Isabel Bonnet is a 21-year-old second-year student in communication science at UvA. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Amsterdammer. Before its creation, she worked as a photo editor at the Independent Florida Alligator and did an internship at Le Monde.