Sinterklaas versus Santa Claus

Sinterklaas versus Santa Claus

They both work in the same sector, wear red, and have a big white beard. For Piet’s sake: what’s the difference? 

The Big Day

Sinterklaas: Sinterklaas’ “heerlijk avondje” / delicious is 5 December, although Sint arrives with a steamer full of servants (Zwarte or today you should just say Pieten), presents and fanfare in mid-November spending a couple of weeks pampering children with candy.

Santa Claus: 24 December is the night Santa Claus goes from rooftop to rooftop, shoehorning himself down the chimney to deliver presents, sugary treats but especially big consumerist gifts.


Sinterklaas and Zwarte Pieten arrive in Haarlem

Origins of the story

Sinterklaas: A man with serious credentials, Sint is thought to be the incarnation of Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of children, who has been revered since the Middle Ages.

Santa Claus: A character risen from a mixed bag of Sinterklaas, Father Christmas and Saint Nicholas.  The anglicised Santa Claus made was born in the New World shortly after Dutch colonization of the Americas.


St Nicholas is the patron saint of children


Sinterklaas: Dressed with a red gown with a white bishop’s alb and a red mitre emblazoned with a cross. His golden crosier with curl detail is inspired by the pastoral staff carried by high-ranking Church prelates.

Santa Claus: Round belly, comfort casual red two-piece with white trim and a thick black belt.


Sinterklaas’ outfit


Sinterklaas: Sint arrives to the Netherlands with  steamer boat from Spain, then rides an elegant white-grey horse called Amerigo when on Dutch soil.

Santa Claus: Rides a sleigh and nine flying reindeer (including red-nosed Rudolph) to get this dude off the ground.


Sinterklaas on horseback of Amerigo


Sinterklaas: The Sint spends most of the year in Spain.

Santa Claus: Santa’s workshop is in the North Pole. There’s a Mrs. Claus back home and she’s great with reindeer.

Santa Claus

Santa: polar pics


Sinterklaas: Keeps track of who’s well behaved via a large book of children’s names (“Het grote Sinterklaasboek” ) and deposits gifts in their shoes accordingly. In past times kids were told that naughty children were snatched in their sleep, tuffed into sacks and ‘disappeared’ to Spain.

Every night until December 5th, children put their shoes near the chimney in the house, sing songs and leave behind food for Amerigo.  If they behaved good, Sinterklaas will pay a visit and surprise them with presents, “pepernoten” (special Sint spicy cookies) and chocolate letters with the intials S (Sint), P (Piet) or the one of the name of the family member in their shoes. The children never see Sinterklaas, as he is on the roof, together with Amerigo and Zwarte Piet. Zwarte Piet is the one to go down the chimney to make sure the right present ends up in the right shoe. From this year the Zwarte Pieten don’t have to climb down the chimney and get black and dirty as they have a special key to open doors.

On December 5th, Sinterklaas visits many children in their house. The kids may then thank Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet, and get a lot of candy and more presents. On December 6th, Sinterklaas returns to Spain.

Santa Claus: Santa would rather give you the benefit of the doubt and leave you a little something under the tree.


Festive treats from Sinterklaas



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2 replies
  1. Lauren
    Lauren says:

    Very cute break down of the two, but (at least in North America) Santa also has a list of good or naughty children. If you’re good, then you get presents. If you’re naughty, you get a lump of coal.

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