DSCN1073Sinterklaas has arrived in the Netherlands and thus begins the hoopla leading up to the Netherlands’ most widely celebrated holiday, Sinterklaasavond (Sinterklaas evening) on December 5. It is believed that the English adopted the tradition from the Dutch in New Amsterdam.  Adapting it slightly, they renamed Sinterklaas Santa Claus and moved the holiday from December 5 to their gift holiday, Christmas. Here’s a comparative look at Sint and Santa. 

Sinterklaas, the patron saint of children also known as Sint Nikolaas or Saint Nicolas, arrives in the Netherlands in mid-November on a steamboat from Spain. Santa Claus lives in the North Pole and makes his yearly trip around the world on December 24.

Sinterklaas has helpers called Zwarte Pieten (Black Petes) who carry a big bag filled with candy to give to nice children, while bad children are threatened with being put in the bag and carried back to Spain. Zwarten Pieten are controversial because while many people see THEM as a loveable characterS, often dressing UP with black faces and afro wigs, others find him offensive and seek to have him play less of a role in the celebration. Santa Claus has elves that spend the year at the North Pole making toys, taking care of the reindeer and keeping track of who’s been naughty and nice.

From the time of Sinterklaas’ arrival until December 5, children leave their shoes next to the fireplace at night with a carrot or a bowl of water nearby for Sinterklaas’ horse.  The next day they will find a small gift in their shoes. Children hang stockings by the fireplace to be filled on Christmas Eve, along with milk and cookies for Santa.

On Sintklaasavond (December 5) children wait for Sinterklaas to knock on the door and leave a sack full of gifts for them on the doorstep.  On Christmas Eve, Santa comes down the chimney and leaves gifts under the Christmas Tree. Candy and treats are a big part of the SINTERKLAAS festivities and include pepernoten, chocolate coins, chocolate Sinterklaas and chocolate letters with the first letter of the child’s name. Candy and treats are also a big part of Christmas celebrations, from candy canes to a large variety of holiday cookies and cakes.