Sinterklaas is Santa and Father Christmas. I'll spare you the history lesson until later. The second or third Saturday of November he always arrives in Amsterdam on his white horse, accompanied by his little helpers who will throw ginger nuts at you. Most small children are terrified by Sinterklaas but will be dragged off to witness the procession anyway.
Read on if you want the real story!
The modern story goes like this: Every year, about three weeks before December 5, Sinterklaas and his band of helpers arrive in the Netherlands from Spain by steamboat. The arrival (intocht) is shown live on television, the highlights are shown on the news (I kid you not). For the next three weeks Sinterklaas and his jolly helpers tour the Netherlands visiting children at school, in the creche, you name it. Then on December 5, if you are lucky, he will visit you at home with his big book and tell you whether you have been good or bad. Then you will get presents.
It all sounds perfectly charming and innocent - and it is. Apart from the helpers, that is. The helpers are called Zwarte Piet (black Pete) and are white people with blacked up faces, curly wigs, wearing stupid ruffs round their necks and big gold hooped earrings. The sort of thing that would get you locked up if you tried it in America.
However, this is liberal Holland and Zwarte Piet is in no way meant to be insulting to black people. Nor is he a slave. Oh no. Zwarte Piet is part of Dutch culture and its all those bloody foreigners trying to be politically correct and get rid of honest Dutch traditions. That's what the debate boils down to anyway.