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The Real Sinterklaas

The History of Sinterklaas 

(Santa Claus)


A Dutch Santa Claus song

Zie de maan schijnt door de bomen

Zie de maan schijnt door de bomen
(Look how the moon shines through the trees)

Makkers staakt uw wild geraas.

(Fellows stop your wild noise)

't heerlijk avondje is gekomen

(The devine evening has arrived)

't avondje van Sinterklaas.

(the evening of Santa Claus)

Vol verwachting klopt ons hart

(Our hearts are beating anxiously)

Wie de koek krijgt, wie de gart

(Who shall get the cake, who the birch ?)


Vol verwachting klopt ons hart

(Wie de koek krijgt, wie de gart)


O wat pret zal het zijn te spelen
(Oh what fun it will be to play)

Met die bonte harlekijn

(With the colourful harlekin)

Eerlijk zullen we alles delen

(We shall share everything honestly)

suikergoed en marsepein

(sweets and marzipan)

maar o wee o bittere smart

(but oh vai oh bitter pain)

kregen wij voor koek een gart

(should we  get the birch instead of the cake)


Coos and his co workers as Sinterklaas and Blacl Piets
My cyber pal friend Coos (on the right) as one of the Pieten at his office

Coos as Black Piet
Coos again

Firstly, you will be surprised that in Holland we do not celebrate Santa Claus (Sinterklaas) on 26th December, but on the evening of 5 December, which is the eve of the day the real Sinterklaas died. Yes folks, there really was a Sinterklaas.
He was born in 271 A.D. and died on Dec. 6th 342 or 343 in the town of Myra in Asia Minor. His tomb was only quite recently dug up by archaeologists.

Sint on the roofHe came from rather a wealthy family and was brought up a Christian. When his parents died in an epidemic, he gave away all his wealth to the poor and entered the priesthood. Much later he became the Archbishop of Myra (that's why you can see pictures of our Sinterklaas dressed in the robes and with the mitre of an Archbishop and not in the usual Santa Claus way) . Myra was not too far from his home town and from there tales about his good deeds and saintly ways spread across the Mediterranean countries.

After he died fact and myth mingled and so the legend of Sinterklaas was born. St.Nicholas became the patron Saint of sailors, merchants and especially children.

When Myra fell to the Mohammedans, sailors carried the bones of their patron to Bari, a Southern Italian town and there they built a mausoleum over his grave which then became the Centre of the St. Nicholas worship.

From Bari the legend of Sinterklaas spread along the coast to the Atlantic and the North Sea. In the 12th and 13th Century Holland built 23 St Nicholas Churches. Amsterdam and several other European towns adopted St. Nicholas as their patron saint and Rome decreed that December 6th, the anniversary of his death, be his official Calendar Day.


The St. Nicholas influence became especially strong in the Low Countries where traditionally and geographically trade represented a great part of the national income. Somehow Sinterklaas became more and more known as the benefactor of children. In the 14th century choir boys of the St. Nicholas Churches were given money and the day off on December 6th. Then, a little later, the monk teachers in convent schools would disguise themselves as Sinterklaas and either punish or reward the pupils as the case might be. From that the Sinterklaas saga most likely spread to the homes of the pupils and then developed over the years into the full tradition it is today. Sint and his book
By the 17th Century Sinterklaas Day was firmly established and at this time where the Dutch settled in The New World, they took this custom with them. Somehow later Sinterklaas and Father Christmas, who was introduced by the British settlers, merged into Santa Claus who lives at the North Pole and drives a sleigh with reindeer.

In Holland Sinterklaas nowadays arrives around the middle of November in Amsterdam by means of a Steamship which comes from "Spain" , where he purportedly lives. He is accompanied by his Moorish helper, Zwarte Piet. 
(Black Pete), who is dressed in an outfit in a style from the Middle Ages: knee pants, jacket with puffed sleeves and a beret with a long feather trailing from it.

Sinterklaas rides on a white horse down the gangplank, holding his golden crosierin his hand. Piet carries a birch rod and a sack with goodies.

(Usually, there are about 20 Piets present at this occasion, but traditionally there is only supposed to be one Piet).

Sinterklaas and the Piets are received by the Mayor of Amsterdam and a delegation of citizens, all this duly recorded on television and watched by the entire nation.

The Piets go through a lot of antics: they threaten children and grown-ups with the birch rod and throw the sweets and  "pepernoten" into the crowd.
Sint riding his white horse

The following weeks Sinterklaas and Piet are really busy;they appear on television, they visit schools, they ride across the rooftops to listen to the children to see if they are behaving well and they leave small gifts in the shoes the children set out near the fire places with some hay or a carrot for the horse. 

 Many families have Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet visit their house on the evening of December 5th. Piet carries his famous birch rod and a sack full of gifts and Sinterklaas carries a big book in which the names of the children and grown- ups are noted who live in that house. This book has remarks after each name of what good and what bad things the child or grown-up did during the year. Sinterklaas will read the notes aloud and the person whose name is called has to step up to Sinterklaas and answer questions. For example, Sinterklaas might say: "I see here that you don't like to take a bath and brush your teeth. Piet, do you think that Jan should get a spanking with the birch rod , or should we let it pass if he promises to change this in the future ?".


The gifts have to be wrapped in a special way and have to be accompanied by a poem which usually makes fun of the person for whom these gifts are intended. The person has to read this poem aloud for everyone to hear. Sometimes the receiver of the gift is made to do things ,such as sing a song.

On Sinterklaas Day special sweets and food are served: chocolate letters are given which represent the initials of the receiver. Boterletters : letters baked with flaky pastry wrapped around marzipan centres. Speculaaspoppen : gingerbread people and borstplaat.

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