Sinterklaas: the Dutchie behind the beard

Gift-wrapped boxes, small get-togethers, festive songs, church bells ringing, stress-disordered kids; celebrating atmosphere all over the Netherlands. What a (seemingly) innocent Dutch tradition!

Sinterklaas (a.k.a. Santa Claus)

Sinterklaas is the Dutch gift-giver; a "variation" of what all people around the globe - except the Dutch and Belgians - call Santa Claus. But they do share a lot!

Due to lack of imagination or even worse, global fashion trends, both Sinterklaas and Santa Claus look like two drops of water. Both of them are a bit chubby, have long white beard, wear red cape, satisfy nice (i.e. less naughty) children and charge parents' credit cards, do not exist etc.

But - just like most stuff in religions / traditions - you have to believe: Sinterklaas is not Santa Claus. He comes by streamboat; a bit old-fashioned these days.

So, Sinterklaas is Dutch?

Absolutely not. In fact, Sinterklaas is an expat!

He originates from Myra in present-day Turkey and arrives (simultaneously at every city) in the Netherlands from Spain.

What’s more, Sinterklaas is well educated, has a rock-solid (although seasonal) job and travels around the globe on an annual basis.

He could well be characterised as the "ideal" expat but paradoxically enough, Sinterklaas does not seem to respect all members of the expatriate community.

A helping hand..

Sinterklaas follows two basic rules when moving around:
 he never travels incognito
 he never travels alone

Ok, Santa is also assisted by elves. But when the time to deliver an (almost) infinite number of gifts - the very peak of his workload - comes, Santa does what a man has to do: he delivers.

Sinterklaas on the other hand, does not run an one-man business. He is "assisted" by Zwarte Piet (Black Pete), his loyal helper who happens to look like a 17th century African slave caricature.

For Sinterklaas, childrens’ satisfaction is not a solo career. It is more like a show for two: one for the cameras and another one for climbing through chimneys.

Apparently, Pete’s "darken" face is caused by Sinterklaas’ lack of multitasking skills. But according to the Dutch tradition, he does not seem to feel oppressed.

For this year..

I wish Sinterklaas splits the tasks or even better, does all the work. How about offering Pete a chance to enjoy the feast and discovering how a Black Sinterklaas would look like.

Come on Sinterklaas! Please, please, pleeeaase!
Except for the above, I was not that naughty this year ;)

Links for Sinterklaas lovers

St. Nicholas & Christmas
Saint Nicholas center

Sinterklaas dictionary

› Cadeautjes - (small) gifts for children
 Intocht van Sinterklaas - Arrival of Sinterklaas
 Kruidnoten - Ginger biscuits
 Mitre - Bishop’s hat
 Pakjesavond - Presents’ evening
 Pepernoten - Ginger biscuits
 Schimmel - White (or grey) horse
 Sinterklaas liedjes - Sinterklaas songs
› Sinterklaasavond - Sinterklaas evening
 Strooigoed - Candies
 Stoomboot - Steamboat

Full glossary can be found here.

Charalampos Sergios


Charalampos Sergios

Sergios is a co-founder of IamExpat. His main interests include online communities and long exposure photography.

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