Dutch Quirk #52: Write poems for each other for “pakjesavond”

Didn’t think the words “Dutch” and “poetry” were two things you’d hear in one sentence? Well, turns out Dutchies can be quite the lyricists β€” at least during the Sinterklaas celebrations. πŸŽ…πŸΌ

After Sinterklaas’ (usually controversial) arrival in the Netherlands, the pepernoten, chocolate letter, and mandarin madness all culminate on December 5th, which is pakjesavond! 🎁

But pakjesavond isn’t only Dutchies’ edge over the rest of the world’s Christmas celebrations (um who wouldn’t want two festive holidays in December?). It’s also an evening of bad rhymes, roasts, and awkward memories as everyone read aloud their sinterklaasgedicht (Sinterklaas poem).

What is it?

Prior to pakjesavond on December 5, each person is assigned a family member or friend to write a poem for β€” which they’ll have to perform during the evening’s festivities β€” Cute, right?

Before releasing the aww-sounds and thinking you’ve discovered a soft side to the Dutch directness, there’s a twist! A sinterklaasgedicht isn’t your usual sobby poetry β€” there’ll be no declarations of great love or friendship.

Nope, the Dutch take this opportunity to remind friends and family of all the funny moments, stupid mistakes, and weird quirks of the designated recipient. Yep, typical Dutch directness even during the holidays. 🀣

READ MORE | The complete guide to writing a top Sinterklaas poem

So, when celebrating pakjesavond in the Netherlands, your real concern shouldn’t be whether you made it onto Sinterklaas’ nice list but if your friends and family remember that embarrassing thing you did two months ago. πŸ‘€

However, you can barely blame your friend or family member for bringing up an embarrassing mistake as a sinterklaasgedicht is always written from the point of view of either Sint or his helper Piet. Sneaky! πŸ™Š

Why do they do it?

Sinterklaas poems have a long history in the Netherlands with the oldest known poem dating back to 1647. In the 1800s, the poems took on an educational character and were almost given to young school children.

From around 1945 though, the sinterklaasgedicht tradition started looking more like how we know it today. They were written by Sint or Piet and adults started to join in on the fun as well.

So why do Dutchies write poems for each other on pakjesavond? It’s tradition β€” and a fun one at that! πŸŽ‰

Why is it quirky?

Well, we don’t know about you but if you write a poem to someone it’s usually a nice one, we hope. The whole oration of your embarrassing moments or cute quirks is not on the usual schedule of family festivities in most other parts of the world. πŸ˜… Not that the poems are straight-up mean, but they are certainly blush-provoking.

Should you join in? 

Why not?! Living in the Netherlands is a chance to embrace and experience different traditions from your own and, after all, it’s always good to get the creative juices flowing and have a good laugh at someone else’s expense.

Maybe your Dutch friends will even write one in English for you! πŸ₯°

What do you think of this Dutch quirk? Have you experienced it? Tell us in the comments below!

Feature Image: stetsik/Depositphotos

Christine Stein Hededam πŸ‡©πŸ‡°
A Dane with a special place in her heart for Minnesota, Christine is now falling in love with everything Dutch. Between finishing her bachelor’s degree, learning Dutch, and doing yoga teacher training, you will find her wandering about the Hague. Always up for visiting new places, she loves to explore the Netherlands with friends and takes pride in scoping out cute cafΓ©s (wherein to discuss books, big plans, and food).

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