Starting this year, my family and I shall celebrate Sinterklaas with a new routine. My youngest (age 10) finally realized that we, the parents, were the geniuses behind all those fabulous Sinterklaas presents every year.

So … We will not be doing the costly affair of ‘Pakjesavond’ (present evening) where my kids follow clues to find a sack or two, full of presents left by the magical figure, Saint Nicholas, patron saint of children and zwarte piet (“Black Pete”), his helpers. Instead, we are going out for a late movie on a school night!

But before all that, I had the utmost pleasure in helping my son’s primary four class, exchanging “SURPRISEs”.

In case you are not familiar …
On this particular day – 5 December, it is a common Dutch practice for the older non-Sint-believer kids starting at upper primary school level, to celebrate Sinterklaas in the classroom by opening “SURPRISE”. Pronounced as “sur-pree-zuh”, it mirrors Secret Santa (gift exchange), yet with exaggeration.

Tradition calls for these kids to:
– Draw lot to pick out a lucky recipient with hobbies, likes and wishes written on the paper.
– Buy at least one present (usually reasonable value or according to a price-cap agreement) befitting the recipient.
– Hand-made an elaborate crafty creation using materials like paper, cardboard boxes, toilet paper rolls, plastic cups, styrofoam, chicken wire, papier-mâché, etc. Creation should be in relation to the recipient’s hobbies or likes. For example: craft a pizza because he/she likes to eat pizzas or a real size mountain bike because of his/her hobby.
– Stash the purchased present(s) inside this crafty item.
– Write a rhyming Sinterklaasgedicht (Sinterklaas poem); that reveal the person’s peculiar behavior, deeds or hobbies with much humor, teasing or sarcasm. Poem will be read out loud by the recipient for all to hear.
– Gift wrap with Sinterklaas gift paper.
– Conceal this top secret project with absolute anonymity.
All these for a rowdy guessing game of who-made-it around the classroom.

For most Dutch, making “sur-pree-zuh” was definitely the highlight of their Sinterklaas season. Creativity, imagination, skills in arts and crafts and rhyming ability are required. Parents were supposed to provide guidance, but seriously, some of these creative designs are like an artwork masterpiece! A silent competition amongst parents?

Such ornamented gift-exchange gesture is absolutely original. I love it! It is also very typically Dutch to practice this tradition between family members. A great reason to come together, to feast, be merry and have fun opening their “SURPRISEs” all through the ‘Pakjesavond’. Gezellige Sinterklaastijd! (translation: Cozy Sinterklaas time!)
I am not that Dutch.


In case you were wondering about my son, Cruz’s “surprise” …
Cruz’s classmate (the recipient) loves bats.
Using one of hubby’s machinery, he cut out the shape of a bat spreading its wings on some left over plywood and used a short plastic pipe as its body. Everything was painted in black and glued. We added sticks and more plywood to outline the wing’s finger bones. I bought a small stuffed animal as a shortcut to make the bat’s face and hid two small presents on its plastic pipe body. What do you think?


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