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The majority of Dutch emigrants are as fond of their traditional Sinterklaas celebrations, as their new friends and neighbours are of Christmas. However, Sinterklaas is almost entirely unknown outside of the Netherlands and many foreigners mistakenly believe that he and Santa Claus are one and the same. Yet, although both festive figures are based on the real-life Bishop of Myra, who lived in Turkey during the fourth century, their associated folklore and customs have evolved in largely different ways. This means that Sinterklaas and Santa Claus not only look dissimilar, but also that their stories are celebrated in a totally different manner.
So what are the key differences between Sinterklaas and Santa Claus? Time to find out!
Steamboat and sledge
One of the most obvious differences between Sinterklaas and Santa Claus is that each arrives on differing modes of transport and from two very distinct locations. Sinterklaas makes his trip from sunny Spain by steamboat, whilst Santa Claus arrives from the chilly North Pole atop a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer. Once on dry land Sinterklaas switches to a white horse and, just like Santa, flies from rooftop to rooftop to deliver his presents via the chimney. Both are extremely busy on this magical night and are assisted by a team of willing helpers – Sinterklaas by his ‘Zwarte Pieten’ and Santa Claus by his many elves. The Sint and his helpers typically place their presents in a shoe, whereas Santa and his elves merrily cram theirs into a stocking. And, although the type of presents are more or less the same – toys, books and other children’s favourites – their origins differ greatly. Sinterklaas for example, conveniently buys his gifts direct from a toy store in Spain and has them carefully wrapped by a small army of Zwarte Pieten. Santa Claus chooses his presents from his very own toy workshop in the North Pole. It is here that his diligent elves toil year round to get them all ready in time for Christmas. Sinterklaas and Santa Claus do, however, both treat their children to a variety of festive sweets – Sinterklaas to a tempting array of typical Dutch Sinterklaas products, such as chocolate letters, pepernoten and speculaas, and Santa Claus to a traditional Christmas-themed selection box crammed with chocolate goodies.
Strict disciplinarian and jolly giver of gifts
There’s a sharp contrast in personality between Sinterklaas and Santa Claus too. The older Dutch generation in particular, will remember Sinterklaas as a strict disciplinarian who didn’t hesitate to whisk misbehaving children back to Spain (in the bottom of his sack) or to punish them with a few brisk strokes of his staff. Today, Sinterklaas is thankfully less severe and regarded more as a generous and, at times, forgetful old man who’s kept on his toes by the mischievous Zwarte Piet. Santa, on the other hand has always been portrayed as a somewhat portly, less fearsome and rather jolly character. Indeed, his greatest punishment for children who’ve been naughty rather than nice, is to place a piece of coal rather than a longed for present in their stocking.
But do Sinterklaas and Santa Claus actually acknowledge each other? Santa Claus appears to live in blissful ignorance of his speedy rival who repeatedly pips him to the post by delivering his presents a few weeks in advance. Sinterklaas though, claims to know Santa and even alleges that the two occasionally meet in his Spanish castle to ensure that no child is ever forgotten, wherever they are in the world …
Prefer to read this article in Dutch? Then visit our sister blog, Heimwee.info, specifically intended for Dutch emigrants.