Deventer—A Unique Sinterklaas Tradition
In all the Netherlands, the town of Deventer is the only one that forbids Sinterklaas to put in appearance before 5 December. Here Sinterklaas is welcome for only one day! The good saint arrives in the rest of the Netherlands in the middle of November, where he can be seen walking about, visiting in schools, hospitals, and homes. Not so, in Deventer.
Here it is the 5th of December when the good saint arrives at the wharf along the River Ijssel (unless it falls on a Sunday—then he comes Saturday, the 4th). This has been true for a long time, ever since the Sinterklaas associations developed unfortunate competition among themselves. When groups of rival Sints and Piets met each other there was rowdy behavior, even brawls. It was so bad, a law was passed in 1919, forbidding Sinterklaas to make an appearance in Deventer before December 5th.
If a Sinterklaas ignores the law and comes before December 5, the penalty is a 2,250 euro fine or three months in jail. So, Sinterklaas is a rare sight in Deventer.
After Sinterklaas official arrival on Dutch National television, Deventer children put their shoes out, just like children in the rest of the Netherlands. For Sinterklaas leaves treats in the night as he goes about the countryside, whether he and his helpers are seen walking about in broad daylight or not.
In 2004 one of the Sints went to court, challenging the ban on appearing before 5 December.
Sinterklaas argued the Deventer ban violated his civil rights. The mayor, in response, made the case (through a poem) to retain the ban. The judge then referred the case to an independent mediator. Most of the people in Deventer want to keep their unique one-day-Sinterklaas tradition.
The mediator’s report recommended a slight adjustment to the ban, allowing a fully costumed Sinterklaas to travel to or from a private, small, non-commercial celebration. However, public appearances are still absolutely forbidden before 5 December. This isn’t really regarded as a change, as such house calls were already tolerated, even though they are at odds with Deventer tradition. The mayor says it is totally out of the question that Sinterklaases will get more opportunities.