Sinterklaas with no switch or servant: traditional songs get overhaul

Songwriter Paul Passchier has come up with a revised collection of Sinterklaas songs, traditionally sung by primary school children in the run up to the St Nicholas celebrations on December 5.

He hopes his updated lyrics will become standard in schools, and publisher Ploegsma says it wants to distribute the book to every primary school in the country by the end of this year, the AD reports.

Some of the lyrics Passchier has changed refer to Zwarte Piet, Sinterklaas’s servant who is at the centre of a major row about racism. Piet, traditionally played by a white person in blackface make-up, is also undergoing a gradual makeover to make him less of a racist stereotype.

Black as soot

One lyric which is constantly referred to by anti-Piet campaigners is ‘Even though I am as black as soot, I mean well’. That should be changed to ‘He is here for you and me, come and join in’, Passchier suggests.

Another popular lyric which harks back to the early days of Sinterklaas states: ‘His servant laughs and keeps on calling out to us. “If you are good you get something delicious, if you are naughty, a switch”’.

Passcher suggests amending this to take modern sensibilities about beating children into account. ‘Look, Piet is laughing and calling to us, ‘I’ve got enough delicious things for all of the Netherlands’, is his suggestion.

Teddy bears

Other lyrics involve updating the wishes of children to make them more modern. Spinning tops and skates are replaced by books and teddy bears. ‘But we have not been too modern,’ he says. ‘We have not put an iPhone in the shoe. The songs must stand the test of time.’

The author claims to be in talks with the education ministry but a spokesman says officials have had an email about the book and that is all. ‘We do not go into how songs are sung,’ he told the Volkskrant.

Meanwhile reactions by readers on the AD website are overwhelmingly negative about the new words.

Thank you for donating to

We could not provide the Dutch News service, and keep it free of charge, without the generous support of our readers. Your donations allow us to report on issues you tell us matter, and provide you with a summary of the most important Dutch news each day.

Make a donation