Unlike the customs of exchanging gifts on December 25, this patron gift-giver, known as Sinterklaas, presents gifts to children on 5th December. The beauty of Christmas traditions lies in the coherence of the customs and the beautiful diversity that stems from this oneness. Although all the customs and the traditions are essentially the same, the legends and the characters associated with Christmas are unique to many countries and regions. In the case of the Dutch, their traditional gift-giver is Sinterklaas who happens to be a bearded, saint-like man, riding his trusty steed in the morning and gifting presents to children and adults alike. Although the traditions of gifting and the styles of gift-giving differ from one person to the other, the soul and the spirit of 'love', 'compassion', 'unity' and 'giving' remains the same across cultures. As is customary, the many legends of these Christmas characters have always remained enigmatic. What you are about to find out about this particular Dutch legend will teach you a lot more than you already do. Read on to know more.
The Dutch Santa Claus
History Of Sinterklaas
'Sinterklaas' or Saint Nicholas is believed to have lived from 271 to 343 AD. He was also the Bishop of Myra in the Greek Orthodox Church. Myra, which is situated in Turkey today, is known for its throng of Saint Nicholas worshippers who, in 1100 AD, travelled from the far corners of the world to worship this popular figure. Known to be a legendary patron of kindness, generosity and love, this figure was adopted by many groups of people as a saint. According to legends, Saint Nicholas was the patron of good deeds and helped poor single girls get married by offering to arrange for their dowries. It is said that Sinterklaas or Saint Nicholas left presents and money in the shoes of these poor girls and this is how they got married. Remembered for his kindness towards children, Sinterklaas eventually earned the title of 'Patron Saint of Children'.
According to legend, Sinterklaas lives in Spain most of the time (unlike Santa Claus who dwells in the North Pole), watching over children and keeping a tab of who was being naughty and who was being nice. In the beginning of November, he calls upon his trusted helper, Black Pete, to pick up all the gifts and load them all into one big sack. Once this is done, Sinterklaas and Black Pete (also called 'Zwarte Piet') would travel on Sinterklaas' stallion, often called Schimmel or Amerigo, and head towards the towns of Netherlands. Every year, a different port or town welcomes Sinterklaas and the people indulge in massive celebrations and colorful parades. Unlike Santa Claus who climbs down chimneys and leaves Christmas presents on Christmas Eve, Sinterklaas arrives around mid-November, marking the beginning of the 'Sinterklaas season' and continues to stay with the local, town-folk till the 5th of December. This stay is then followed by the 'Sinterklaas Feast Day' on December 6.
With due respect to traditional customs, children leave their shoes filled with hay by the fireplace every night till the 5th of December, hoping to receive presents from Sinterklaas at night. The hay in the shoes is left to feed the stallion after a tiring journey. On the 5th morning, children find fancy gifts in their shoes with small additions like sweets (speculaas), doll shapes (taai taai), sugar candy poems and humorous stories, all to spread the good cheer of the festival. This is then followed by a grand feast. Unlike Santa Claus, Sinterklaas travels around towns and cities on his stallion, in broad daylight, meeting different people.
Sinterklaas is depicted as an old Bishop-like man, with a long white beard and a long red cloak adorned with golden stripes. He carries a shaft and wears a 'mitre' on his head. Unlike Santa Claus, Sinterklaas has a thinner structure and is accompanied by Black Pete, his assistant. Black Pete is said to be dark skinned with curly hair and also wears red lipstick. The duo travels on a white stallion from house to house and Black Pete climbs down the chimneys of the houses to leave the presents.
Sinterklaas is a renowned figure in most parts of Europe. It is said that children are not the only ones who believe in this legendary figure; adults too, partake in the festivities to please the traditional Dutch gift-giver. Although the arrival of Santa Claus came with the waning of many other Christmas characters from the limelight, Sinterklaas has still managed to retain the beliefs associated with him and continues to be a hit with the younger crowd in Netherlands and parts of Europe.
Known for bringing gifts to the children on December 5th, the Dutch interpretation of Santa Claus, known as Sinterklaas, is another popular Christmas figure. Read on.