Yesterday Sinterklaas (also known as Sint Nicolaas or just Sint) and his helpers, the Zwarte Piet (black Pete), arrived into Ouderkerk via boat. Why did they come by boat? Well, because he's coming up from Spain (duh). And why are his helpers black? Well, some would say it's the soot from coming down the chimney (but then why isn't Sint black as well), some will say it's because they were originally Moors, I wonder if it has anything to do with the Dutch history of colonization... Whatever the reason, this is happening all over Holland.
And what exactly is happening, you may be thinking? Well, Sint and his helpers are arriving all over the Netherlands on different days of course because they have to go from location to location. And they are met with parades, families singing songs and children dressed as Sint and Piets - these completely in black face (I'm not kidding) (ever see the book Little Black Sambo) (I find it offensive, the Dutch find it offensive that I find it offensive).
I've digressed, they've arrived so that they can check to see who's been naughty (in which case you might get stuffed into a sack where Sint or Piet will pretend to kick you) or nice until present delivery day - December 5th. All this checking time, roughly 3 weeks, you leave your shoes by the fire (radiator) in the hopes of finding treats in the morning. Mmm, candy in my shoe, yummy.
David Sedaris does a great job of describing this bizarre holiday in his reading "6 to 8 Black Men." You can read the essay here on Esquire or listen to it via YouTube - this is video 1 of 3 and you don't really need to look at the video. He starts talking about Christmas at 3:38 and then Netherlands specifically around 4:30: