From Sinterklaas to Santa Claus

From Sinterklaas to Santa Claus

Sinterklaas and Santa Claus, they have a lot in common don’t you think? Two very old men with white beards, both a bit overdressed and having a mystical appearance – and they both give presents to little children. Is this a coincidence? No it’s not. 

Sinterklaas is an old Dutch tradition. Every year in November Sinterklaas comes to Holland on a steamboat. He travels around on his horse Amerigo, which has the ability to ride on roofs easily. He leaves presents in the little children’s shoes up until December 5th. On December 5th, Sinterklaas is celebrated annually with the giving of gifts to all family members (especially children).

The figure of Sinterklaas, or Sint Nicolaas is based on Saint Nicholas, also called Nikolaos of Myra. He was a 4th-century Christian saint and Greek Bishop of Myra, in Asia Minor, modern-day Demre, Turkey. Nicholas had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him.

The tradition of Santa Claus is thought to have developed from that gift-giving celebration of the feast of Saint Nicholas or Sinterklaas on December 6 each year by the settlers of New Netherland. The Dutch Sinterklaas was Americanized into Santa Claus, a name first used in the American press in 1773.

In 1821, the book A New-year’s present, to the little ones from five to twelve was published in New York. It contained Old Santeclaus, an old man on a reindeer sleigh, bringing presents to children. Some modern ideas of Santa Claus became popular after the publication of the poem from Clement Clarke Moore A Visit From St. Nicholas in 1823. Santa is riding in a sleigh that lands on the roof, entering through the chimney, and having a bag full of toys. Santa is described as “chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf”, with a belly that “shook when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly”. The reindeer were named: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Dunder and Blixem (Dunder and Blixem came from the old Dutch words for thunder and lightning, which later transitioned to the more German sounding Donner and Blitzen). Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer first appeared in a 1939 booklet written by Robert L. May. It is a male reindeer with a glowing red nose. He is the lead reindeer pulling Santa’s sleigh on Christmas Eve. The luminosity of his nose is so great that it illuminates Santa’s path in the dark.

Sinterklaas found his way to America by becoming Santa Claus. And in return Santa Claus found his way to the Dutch by becoming the Kerstman (the Christmas man). So in Holland there are two competing gift-givers. But for children in the Netherlands Sinterklaas remains the predominant gift-giver in December; 36% of the Dutch only give presents on Sinterklaas day, whereas Christmas is used by another 21% to give presents. Some 26% of the Dutch population gives presents on both days.

There are a lot of phony Sinterklazen, but the real ones, do exist! You can actually visit them: Sinterklaas is living in Madrid, Spain and Santa Claus on the North pole and has a house in Rovaniemi, Finland. They have busy agendas so you better make an appointment.

Happy holidays!