Santa Claus vs. Sinterklaas

You know you’re moving up in the world when you start taking part in blogging collaborations…
This December I’m joining in with The 12 Days of Christmas, a blog collab. by 13 women who fit into the “Kiwi Mummy Bloggers” category (but please don’t call me a Mummy Blogger).

Yesterday’s post, or Day Five, was a mulled wine recipe shared by Parental Misadventures.
It looks and sounds absolutely divine, so make sure you and go check it out!

The 12 Days of Christmas: Day Six
Santa Claus vs. Sinterklaas
(and why my kids are visited by them both)

My kids are Kiwi Kids. There’s no denying it. They run around in barefeet, they eat Weetbix for breakfast, and they end a lot of their sentences with, “Eh, Mum?”

But my kids are also Dutch Kids. It’s not easy to spot, but it’s in them. Their dad was born in The Netherlands, they call their paternal grandparents Oma and Opa, and you can practically see their ears prick up everytime they hear the word, “Holland.”

I don’t feel like I’m doing enough to teach them about their roots, to be honest (not that I feel like it’s really my place to anyway – I’ve never even stepped foot outside of New Zealand). But I do try to talk about their heritage as and when I can. And so, when I learned a few years back about some old guy called Sinterklaas who brings presents to Dutch children in early December, I knew I had to adopt the tradition for my own kids.

Sinterklaas has made annual visits to our house since 2011. But who is he?

I referred to him in this (old and incredibly embarrassing) YouTube video as “the Dutch Santa”, but apparently that’s not quite right. A Dutch viewer left me the following comment:

It’s funny, Sinterklaas is not the Dutch Santa. Santa is the American Sinterklaas. When New York was still New Amsterdam, the Dutch people that lived there celebrated Sinterklaas in the US. Other people took over that holiday and over the years that turned into Santa Claus with his own story.

So then I felt bad, because it seemed people thought my description meant that Santa existed first and the Dutch people copied them. But then I thought, Actually, I’m going to keep saying that. Because it’s the easiest way to get non-Dutch people to understand what the hell you’re on about when you mention Sinterklaas. I mean, call me lazy, but if there’s an easy way to make people understand me, then I’m taking that path. You know?

Whoever came first (not that I should say whoever, because it was definitely Sinterklaas, I fact-checked), there’s no denying that Sinter and Santa have a lot in common. And feel free to call me crazy, but I just thought it’d be kind of fun to compare them. So here we go.

Santa Claus vs. Sinterklaas

Santa Claus and his elves:
Santa Claus with his elves:
Sinterklaas with his Zwarte Pieten:
Sinterklaas with his Zwarte Pieten:

Santa: A random old dude who lives in the North Pole year-round.
Sinterklaas: An actual saint who lives in Spain, but travels to the Netherlands by steamboat in mid-November, where he stays until December 6 (his arrival is a big deal; his departure not so much).

Santa: Relies heavily on his special helpers, the elves.
Sinterklaas: Relies heavily on his special helper, Zwarte Piet (AKA Black Pete, AKA The Guy I Don’t Mention To My Kids Because Black Face Is Never Okay)

Santa: Leaves gifts in children’s stockings on the eve of the 24th of December.
Sinterklaas: May leave small treats in children’s shoes (or clogs) on any night from the time he arrives in the Netherlands, while bigger gifts are delivered on the eve of the 5th of December.

Santa: Rides in a sleigh pulled by reindeer.
Sinterklaas: Rides a white horse named Amerigo.

Santa: Has a long white beard, a big, round belly, and wears a thick red suit with matching hat.
Sinterklaas: Has a long white beard, an unremarkable belly, and wears a saintly red robe and an equally saintly red hat.

Santa: Does his own dirty work (i.e. he climbs down the chimneys himself).
Sinterklaas: Employs others to do his dirty work (i.e. he sends Zwarte Piet down the chimneys – a lot of Dutch people will argue that this is what makes Black Pete black; I stand by my Black Face = Not Okay Ever stance).

Santa: Children leave him cookies and milk, and sometimes something tasty for his reindeer.
Sinterklaas: Children leave his horse carrots and hay, and sometimes something tasty for the Saint himself.

Santa: Keeps track of whether children have been naughty or nice by writing their names in lists.
Sinterklaas: Keeps track of whether children have been naughty or nice by writing their names in “The Book of Sinterklaas”.

Santa: If children are naughty he will leave a lump of coal in their stockings.
Sinterklaas: If children are naughty he will tell Zwarte Piet to put them in a sack and take them back to Spain (OMG, that’s worse than the Black Face thing).

So why do my kids get both?

Like I mentioned at the start of this post, I just want my kids to grow up with at least some idea of what it means to be a Dutch kid. It’s highly likely that I’m getting it all wrong, or that I’m placing emphasis on the things that don’t really matter, but I’m all about making Christmas as fun and magical as possible. And if I can get away with doubling up on Santa just because I happened to marry a Dutchman, then hell yeah I’m gonna double up on Santa. Why wouldn’t you?

I do have to admit, however, that I’ve never made much of an effort to get them to believe in Sinterklaas. I actually reckon they’d all forget about him if I didn’t mention it. But my kids are so willing to believe in things, so ready to accept magic, so eager to receive presents, that I’m going to keep going with it: At the start of December they get a little something from Sinterklaas. At the end of December they get quite a few somethings from Santa Claus. It’s fun. It’s exciting. It’s an excuse to squeeze as much Christmas out of Christmas as possible.

Every year I wait for my kids to start questioning why they get Sinterklaas and Santa Claus; for them to figure out that there are just too many similarities between the two dudes for any of it to actually be real. But so far my kids haven’t expressed any doubt as to the existence of either of their Santas, and I’m happy to keep it that way. My eldest is eight and a half. There’s a good chance she’ll be a non-believer this time next year. I’m more than willing to allow her to hold onto the magic of Christmas while she can…

Last night, on the 5th of December, my kids made gingerbread for Sinterklaas, and left carrots in their shoes for Amerigo.
This morning, on St. Nicholas’ Day, they woke up to find someone had crept down the chimney to fill their footwear with surprises and treats. And just as they believe in magic, I believe that it’s moments like these that will stick with them forever. If nothing else, they’ll always be able to boast that they were the kids who were visited every year by not one, but two Santas. It doesn’t get much better than that.

– Fern xxx

Want to see all the Dutch Christmas magic unfold?
Tonight’s “Vlogmas” video is dedicated to Sinterklaasavond… It’s worth a watch!

Tomorrow’s 12 Days of Christmas blog post will go live at 12pm over at
If you like the sound of Christmas in a Jar then make sure you head over to Dorothy Nada so you can read all about it.
I’ll also be sharing the link to that on my Facebook page, so why not go and give that a Like now?


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5 Comment

  1. Jen Morris says: Reply

    I love that you are including both traditions!
    What did you mean by “Black Face is never okay”? It sounds racist but I’m sure you didn’t mean it that way. Do you mean people impersonating Black Pete and painting their faces? Was the original Black Pete painted, or was he actually black? Sorry if it’s a dumb question, just wanting to understand.

    1. fernp says: Reply

      Every year white people dress up as Zwarte Pieten in full “Black Face” costume. The Dutch people argue that it is tradition and therefore it’s okay, but people of African descent find it racist and offensive.
      I don’t really have enough knowledge to explain any further, but the fact that white people are painting their faces that way is enough for me to not want to go there…
      That’s what I meant by saying Black Face is never okay.

  2. This is fab! I love your writing! Love you’re squeezing as much Christmas out of Christmas as you can. Also as I recall, Sinte Klaas has a fancy to hide shoes when he visits. Did you ever find them?! 😉 #bestandworst

  3. Its funny how each country has theor pwn traditions. I’m half German and so used to leave a slipper out for St Nick when I was a kid and when we remembered which was around the 6th December I think. And as for black pete my Dad embarrassingly explained this to me a few years ago….. #bestandworst

  4. What a great post and really interesting, I love learning about different cultures and traditions/ Thanks for linking up to this weeks #bestandworst please do stop by again!

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