Sinterklaas V Santa Claus

Hi there:-) We usually give holiday tips for your stay in Holland, but this time we wish to share some deeply rooted, Dutch folklore. If you travel to Holland early December, you will experience “Sinterklaas”, a feast for families, especially for young children who strongly believe that Sinterklaas is real, until they are told by their parents, or accidentally hear from their bigger sibling, that it’s all a load of hog… much like the case of the other famous bearded, presents-giving character dressed in red.

Every year, on December 5th, Holland (and some of it’s former colonies) celebrate “Sinterklaas”. Sinterklaas is a “saint” who “lives in Spain” and comes to Holland by boat on December 5th. Along with him are his helpers, “Black Peeters“, as well as his white horse. Sinterklaas comes to Holland to hand out presents to all the well-behaving children (and to the badly-behaving as well, don’t worry parents:-)). He rides on the slippery and snowy rooftops of our Dutch houses on his white horse (yes, he’s an excellent horse rider!) and the black Peters go down the chimneys (or sneak into the house otherwise if there is no chimney) at night to deliver  presents and sweets to be found by anticipating children the next morning.

In earlier days, well-behaving children would get sweets and presents, whereas badly behaving children would get a symbolic (or actual:-() cane for a “good old fashioned” beating up and were made to believe Sinterklaas would take them with him in bags to Spain..don’t you just love rigid Dutch education!

Sinterklaas, a bishop who lived in today’s Turkey (Myra) in 3 AC, is a guardian of children and sea men, unmarried women and…oh, prostitutes. On your trip to Amsterdam, you can visit the Nicolaas Kerk which is dedicated to this Saint.  You’ll find the church between the water where ships would come in and sail out, and the Wallen (“Shores/Strand”), internationally known as the Red Light District,  and it’s location is one for obvious reasons…

All things said, today, Sinterklaas is a happy occasion for all…that is…
For the last few years, there has been, to say the least, a “vivid discussion” concerning Sinterklaas’ helpers, the Black Peeters. Black Peeters are often white people, made up looking like black people (see blog picture). Some dark(er) skinned people in Holland today, take offence in the matter, and relate the origin of the holiday to the Dutch slavery past.  “Conservative” Sinterklaas celebrators argued that the black skin is merely  derived from “travelling down the chimneys”, and does not have anything to do with the issue of African descent nor slavery, although this argument is somewhat dismissed today. As a result of public pressure, Black Peeters in recent years, have not been made to look black anymore. They have all kinds of colors smeared on their faces, or just just a few coal stains from “going down the chimney”, and they are usually just called “Piet” (Peter).

It is assumed that over time, the Santa Claus story developed from the Sinterklaas story and other European stories alike. Dutch immigrants in the New World may have adjusted their holiday to their new environment (reindeer instead of a horse) and the holiday was probably also influenced by similar holidays celebrated by immigrants from other parts of the “Old World”.

Anyway, if you’re planning a trip to Holland with your youngsters at the beginning of December , (when fare prices are lower, yeah), join the crowds on any quay and welcome Sinterklaas anywhere in Holland! Your children won’t regret it, that’s for sure!



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