Two sweet things traditionally eaten around Christmas time in Holland are chocolate letters from Sinterklaas, and pepernoten (similar to kruidnoten).
Rather than celebrate like many other countries, on December 24 or 25, the big day for the Dutch is December 5. Before Sinterklaas (their version of Santa/ Father Christmas) arrives, on the 5th, children leave their shoes next to the fire place – or nowadays, the radiator – in the hope that their shoes will be filled during the night. Normally, they leave a little treat for Sinterklaas’ horse, like a carrot or some hay. When they wake up, they find some sweets or a little present in their shoes.
Pepernoten and kruidnoten are like little round biscuits, often mixed with sweets and given in sacks to little children at the time of Sinterklaas. They are spiced with ginger and cinnamon, and are often hidden in rooms along with chocolate coins for children to hunt for on Sinterklaas eve.
At many Dutch Sinterklaas parties, people also receive chocolate initials, the first letter of each person’s name. These letters, which come in melk (milk), witte (white), or puur (dark) chocolate, are popular throughout the Sinterklaas season, early December, and are eaten by children and adults alike. The letters are only sold from the first day of October till December 5 . We can trace the custom of giving people edible letters back to Germanic times – when children were born, they were given a bread letter as a sign of good fortune for their lives. Interestingly, we can see evidence of pastry letters in some Dutch Masters‘ still-life paintings which date back to the 1500 and 1600’s.