In mid-November each year, Sinterklass (as Santa is called in Dutch) arrives in the Netherlands after traveling by ship from Spain. In modern times, his journey is a major news event. This year, his arrival in the city of Sneek will be televised live by Dutch television on Nov. 18.
Sinterklass, traditionally dressed in bishop's robes, spends the next three weeks touring the countryside, checking to see who's been naughty and who's been nice. On the night of Dec. 5, the eve of St. Nicholas Day, gifts are exchanged.
Throughout history, Sinterklass has been accompanied by an aide named Zwarte Piet, which translates to "Black Pete," often played by a Caucasion wearing blackface. In recent times, this has led to tension between ancient custom and modern sensibilities.
You can learn more about the traditional celebrations in the Netherlands and elsewhere from the Saint Nicholas Center.