The Sinterklaas “Intocht” (arrival parade) needs no introduction for the locals who began chasing Sinterklaas and his many “Zwarte Pieten”along the Amstel river and through the streets of Amsterdam as toddlers. It goes as follows (please forgive me for the semi-accurate description – I’m only after the basics idea here):
Sinterklaas is the Dutch equivalent of Santa Claus, and probably a much older, more original, less commercialized story. Sinterklaas comes from Turkey, though I cannot say whether that’s related to the fact that Americans often eat turkey for Christmas dinner. As a helper (or slaves, depending on who’s telling the story in what era) Sint has Zwarte Piet (“Black Pete”), or rather a whole army of Zwarte Pieten. Piet is black because he’s a Moor from Spain (like Othello).
Here’s where it gets tricky for those sensitive about such topics, specifically because the Dutch are not particularly sensitive: The role of Piet is traditionally played by white people made up in “blackface” as was normal in the US back when gangsters wore hats and pointed tommy guns out of black sedans in battles over gambling and bootleg liquor. There’s occasionally debate about whether this practice (the blackface, not the gangsters) is racist… but not much. That can be witnessed by the 350,000 happy fans lining the streets of Amsterdam cheering the arrival of Sinterklaas and 670 Zwarte Pieten. Just to note I spotted what appeared to be a handful of black Zwarte Pieten, also in blackface of course.
In any case Sint and the Pieten load up a ship full of “pepernoten” (little cookies like ginger snaps) and stuff in Spain and sail for Holland. Their exact route is unclear but they do end up sailing up the Amstel, which is odd considering that this is inland from Amsterdam. Perhaps they’ve chosen another inland route to pick up carrots for the horses or something. Once they reach the Amstel thousands of families with kids on bikes and in bakfietsen ride along the banks cheering Sint and the Pieten onward. The ship lands by the Scheepvaartsmuseum (the shipping museum) in the center of Amsterdam and Zwarte Pieten and Sint parade through the streets in all manner of Dutch vehicles and conveyances. Sinterklaas rides his white horse while the various Pieten show their preferences for bakfietsen, Land Rovers, rollerblades, unicycles, BMX bikes, stilts, fire engines etc etc.
Why am I explaining all of this? Because of the bakfietsen of course! WorkCycles had the honor this year of loaning a dozen bakfietsen and transportfietsen to Sinterklaas and his team. The bakfietsen were used to carry pepernoten for the kids, hay and carrots for the horses, and yet more Pieten.