The Story of Sinterklaas

December 2, 2014

Sinterklaas is a traditional European figure based on Saint Nicholas. Sinterklaas is associated with the giving of gifts in early December in many areas of European countries, such as France, Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg, as well as territories of the former Dutch empire.

Sinterklaas is one of the earliest representations of the character who became what we know today as Santa Claus.

Depicted as an elderly man with a white beard, (sound familiar?) with a red cape draped over traditional bishop’s dress and a red mitre, Sinterklaas rides into town on a white horse, called Amerigo in Holland and Slecht Weer Vandaag in Belgium.

To celebrate the arrival of Sinterklaas, children leave shoes out overnight, as well as water and a carrot for Amerigo. Good children are rewarded with chocolate letters or marzipan, while naughty children are traditionally given coal. The feast of Saint Nicholas is on 6 December, but gifts are generally given on the evening of the 5 December, along with light-hearted poems written especially for the recipient.

In Holland, Sinterklaas traditionally arrives from Spain by steamboat on the first Saturday after 11 November, the next Saturday he arrives by train or horse-drawn carriage in towns without a dock. Sinterklaas makes his arrival in Amsterdam by sailing in via the Amstel River, finishing at the Maritime Museum, where he is welcomed in by the Mayor of the city.

After being welcomed in to the city, Sinterklaas mounts his trusty steed Amerigo and rides through the town, passing through landmarks such as Leidsplein, Dam Square and Rembrandtplein before delivering a message to the people of the city from his balcony. Once the feast of Saint Nicholas is over, Sinterklaas returns to Spain, but not before dropping off a sack full of presents on the doorsteps of families.

Sinterklaas is a classically-European celebration, which helps retain the magic of the festive season on the continent. Pay a visit to France, Holland, Belgium or Germany during November or December and you can experience it for yourself.

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