Invader Stu: The Sinterklaas Guide
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 who Sinterklaas is, the basic description you’d receive would be something along the lines of, "He is a very nice old man who is not Santa, has a long white beard, dresses in red and gives presents in December to all the good girls and boys."
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.
Sinterklaas vs. Santa Claus
Santa and Sinterklaas are two very different people. They just happen to work in the same area of business. There are several key differences for identifying them:
› Santa Claus comes from the North Pole, but Sinterklaas comes from Spain and thus saves money on his yearly heating bill.
› Santa Claus dresses in red with a fluffy white trim, but Sinterklaas goes with the slightly more fashionable gold trim and accessorises with a staff.
› Santa Claus delivers presents on the night of December 24, but Sinterklaas arrives in the Netherlands in the middle of November, does some sightseeing, delivers presents on December 5 and returns home in time to enjoy a quiet Christmas.
› Santa Claus flies to his destination, but Sinterklaas arrives by steam boat. It is still unknown if this difference is because Sinterklaas is afraid of flying or Santa is afraid of water.
› Santa Claus rides on a sledge pulled by 12 over-worked reindeer, but Sinterklaas rides a single white horse called Amerigo, saves money on animal feed and has to remember fewer names.
› Santa Claus puts presents for children under a Christmas tree, but Sinterklaas puts presents in children’s shoes, regardless of how smelly they are.
› Santa Claus has an elf equal opportunities programme, which has helped keep the fairy-tale creature unemployment rate down.
Sinterklaas also has an equal opportunities programme and employs Zwarte Pieten, who suffer from A.D.D and regularly get their shoe polish mixed up with their face cream.
› Santa Claus gives a lump of coal to children who have been naughty so that they might learn from their mistakes.
Sinterklaas, on the other hand, has a zero tolerance policy and orders a Zwarte Piet to throw naughty children into a sack and drag them back to Spain while beating them with twigs.