November and December can be a very confusing time of year for expats in The Netherlands, especially for those who have never heard the name Sinterklaas or seen a Zwarte Piet before.
Who is Sinterklaas?
If you were to ask a Dutch Person to describe Sinterklaas they would probably say something along the lines of, “He is a very nice old man who has a long white beard, dresses in red and gives gifts to all the good girls and boys in December.”
Sinterklaas vs. Santa
Whatever you do, do not follow this up by asking them how that makes him any different from Santa, not unless you want to seriously damage diplomatic relations between The Netherlands and your own country. They are two very different people. They just happen to work in the same area of business. Here are eight differences that will help you tell them apart.
1) North Pole vs. Spain
Santa lives in the North Pole but Sinterklaas lives in Spain and (as a result) gets to enjoy more sun and less hyperthermia.
2) Fat vs. Thin
Santa has not yet found a diet that works for him and as a result tends to be on the overweight side. Sinterklaas however manages to remains thin and in good shape for his age.
3) Late December vs. Early December
Santa delivers gifts under cover of night on Christmas Eve (December 24th) for children to open on Christmas morning. Sinterklaas arrives in the Netherlands in the middle of November, does some sightseeing, delivers kadootjes on pakjesavond (December 5th) and returns home in time to enjoy a quiet Christmas.
4) Flying vs. Sailing
Santa flies to his destination by sleigh but Sinterklaas sails to The Netherlands by steam boat. It is still unknown if this is because Santa is afraid of water or Sinterklaas is afraid of flying.
5) Twelve Reindeer vs. One Horse
Santa’s sleigh is pulled all around the world by twelve over worked reindeer but Sinterklaas travels around the Netherlands on a single white horse called Amerigo. As a result he saves money on animal feed and has to remember less names.
6) List vs. Book
To keep all the names of the girls and boys who have been naughty or nice organised Santa has a list (which must be several thousand miles long by now) but Sinterklaas has a book (which never seems to get bigger despite the growing population).
7) Tree vs. Shoe
Traditionally, Santa puts the presents for children under the Christmas tree but Sinterklaas puts them in their shoes. However, he’ll sometimes leave the gifts in a sack by the front door if the shoes are too smelly.
Santa has an elf equal opportunities program which has helped keep the fairytale creature unemployment rate down. Sinterklaas also has an equal opportunities program and employs Zwarte Pieten who are extremely hyper and regularly get their shoe polish mixed up with their face cream.
So there you have it, proof that the two jolly gift givers are two very different people… or are they?
In 1625 the Dutch founded a small colonial town known as New Amsterdam, which would later change its name to New York City. A lot of the traditions the Dutch took with them to ‘The New Land’ were forgotten over time. However, during the American War of Independence, when the Americans wanted to highlight their non-English past, one particular Dutch tradition was resurrected. Something’s were changed of course. It’s even suggested there was a miss translation or two which led to the new name… Santa Claus.
Want to read more posts about this Dutch tradition? Check out my post on Why I Love Sinterklaas.