Sinterklaas Arrival Parade with WorkCycles Bakfietsen

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.

A few of the photos are my own. The others found on the following sites:
Sint in Amsterdam
Photos by Sandra Machielsen
MichaËl also has some nice photos, though I didn’t use them here

2 Responses to “Sinterklaas Arrival Parade with WorkCycles Bakfietsen”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Hallo,bij deze wou ik graag iets over de Sint kwijt. Sint was de bisschop van myra,toen grieks grondbezit,hedendaags turks vandaar de connectie/verwarring met turkije en met kalkoen heeft t niks van doen. De pieten zijn italiaanse schoorsteenvegers vandaar hun zwarte gezichten,das dus roet! De Moren waren slaven die de Sint kocht en die hun vrijheid daarmee terug kregen! De Sint was dus geen slavenhouder!!! Zegt het voort, Piet is zwart van t roet,niet van huidskleur. Met vriendelijke groet Barry (zoon van hulpsint)

  2. henry Says:

    I’ll roughly translate the above comment for our non-Dutch readers:
    Hello, I’d like to say something about Sinterklaas. Sint was the bishop of Myra, then Greek, currently Turkish thus the connection/confusion with Turkey en having nothing to do with the large birds. The Piets are Italian chimney sweepers thus their black faces, that’s thus soot! The Moors were slaves that Sinterklaas bought in order to free! Thus Sinterklaas was not a slave owner!!

    Wow, if that’s all true and not revisionist history it’s great background info and thanks very much for the explanation. It is indeed typical that these stories get all mixed up and confused, though this one has apparently been really extremely twisted out of context.

    Of course even knowing this won’t stop the “politically correct” types from complaining about racism in Sint and Piet since even the image of people in blackface makeup could be confused with the racist blackface actors of yesteryear, thereby insulting people or injuring fragile egos.

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