Sinterklaas vs. Santa Claus: A Comparison

Sinterklaas vs. Santa Claus: A Comparison

If you live in the Netherlands and discover Sinterklaas, you may wonder, is He the Dutch version of Santa Claus? Why they seem similar yet have completely different backgrounds? Since December is coming again and our two favorite holidays are in the air, let me answer these questions. In this blog, I will compare Sinterklaas vs. Santa Claus based on ten criteria. But first, a bit of history about these two famous figures.

Who is Sinterklaas?

Sinterklaas is a legendary figure based on Saint Nicholas, who lives around 15 March 270 – 6 December 343. Saint Nicholas is a Christian bishop who is the patron saint of children (as well as sailors, merchants, singles, students, repentant thieves, pawn brokers and brewers) in various cities around Europe. According to legends, Saint Nicholas has a habit of secretly giving gifts. Therefore, Sinterklaas emerged as a character in the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Northern France, and other parts of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in the Carribean islands such as Bonaire, Aruba, and Sint Maarten. In the Netherlands, Sinterklaas is also known for his several names such as De Sint (The Sint), De Goede Sint (The Good Saint), and De Goedheiligheman (The Good Holy Man). For more information about Sinterklaas, check out my blog on this link.

Who is Santa Claus?

Santa Claus is a legendary character who is also based on Saint Nicholas but existed on a much later stage than Sinterklaas. In fact, historical account mentioned that Santa Claus gained popularity in The New World after the Dutch colonization of the America. Some believed that Santa Claus is a reinvented version of Sinterklaas, as a celebration of freedom of America from the Europeans (just like New Amsterdam became known as New York). Nowadays, Santa Claus in known for several names such as Father Christmas, Saint Nicholas, Kris Kringle, or shortly Santa. Whether it is a coincidence or not, Santa Claus is a figure that has a great influence in the lives of many people worldwide during Christmas Season. Want to know how is the Christmas celebrated in the Netherlands? Check-out my blog on What makes Dutch Christmas special?

Cozy Christmas celebration at home.

What are the differences between Sinterklaas and Santa Claus?

1. Early December vs. Late December

The celebration of Sinterklaas starts mid-November, known as the arrival of his steam boat from Spain to the Netherlands. The highlights of the celebration of Sinterklaas is every night of 5th December (also known as pakjesavond or gift giving night) in the Netherlands and morning of 6th December in Belgium and France. On the other hand, Santa Claus is celebrated on night of 24th December during Christmas. Around this time, he is believed to go from rooftop to rooftop and enter the chimney via magic to deliver gifts to the children.

2. Warm vs. Cold home

Sinterklaas is believed to live in Spain (Southern Europe) which has a favorably warm climate, while Santa Clause is believe to live in North Pole filled with snow.

3. Boat with white horse vs. Sleigh pulled by reindeer

Another difference between Sinterklaas vs. Santa Claus is their mode of transportation. Sinterklaas arrives in the Netherlands via boat, then rides his elegant white horse named Amerigo. On the other hand, Santa Claus arrives with his sleigh pulled by his nine reindeer. Does Rudolph sounds familiar? Well he is one of the famous reindeers of Santa Claus.

4. Single vs. a Family man

Sinterklaas has no known family. In fact he is believed to be a single pensionado in Spain. Meanwhile, Santa Claus is known to have a wife namely Mrs. Claus.

5. Petes vs. Elves

Sint has helper called (Black) Petes or Zwarte Piet in Dutch. The Petes make the gifts in Sint’s factory and help in distributing gifts and sweets to good children and in putting those naughty children in his jute sack. On the other hand, Santa Claus has helpers known as the elves. The elves help in making toys for children in Santa’s work factory in the North Pole.

6. Book vs. Lists

Sinterklaas keeps track of names of well-behaved and naughty children using his large book, while Santa Claus uses a list to determine the children who he should give gifts during Christmas.

7. Shoes vs. Tree

Sinterklaas put the gifts of well-behaved children on their shoes, often in the form of small toys, pepernoten, speculaas, and letter-shaped pastries filled with almonds. Meanwhile Santa Claus places his gifts under the Christmas tree or on Christmas socks hanging on the fire place. The gifts are often toys and treats such as cookies,milk, whiskey or mince pies for children.

Preparing some pepernoten during Sinterklaas.

8. Outfit of Sinterklaas vs. Santa Claus

The outfit of Sinterklaas depicts a religious figure. He wears long red cape accompanied by a red bishop mitre hat and red ruby ring. On the other hand, Santa Claus chooses outfit for comfort. He wears a lose red two piece with thick black belt and a pompom as hat.

9. Punishment of Sinterklaas vs. Santa Claus

Sinterklaas has a more serious credibility than Santa Claus when it comes to punishment with children. In fact, many parents use the name of Sinterklaas to let children behave (well, I admit that I am guilty of it too!) On one hand, in addition to not receiving toys or treats, song Sinterklaas songs in Dutch indicate that naughty children will receive small branches and will be beaten by the Black Pete. Worse, they disappear and believe to be put in sack to be brought back to Spain. Santa Claus, on the other hand, is more lenient in punishment compared to Sinterklaas. Hleaves black coal instead of gifts to naughty children.

10. Personality of Sinterklaas vs. Santa Claus

Sinterklaas is known to be strict and serious in his characters (as you can see in the way he punishes children, while Santa Claus is very punctual (as he has to deliver all the gifts before 24:00 during the night of 24th December. He is also jolly man as we can hear in his laugh Ho-ho-ho! Despite this character, there seems to be more life-balance in the way of living of Sinterklaas (since he separates work in the Netherlands and life in Spain) and he has no family (making him less stressed). On the contrary, Santa Claus seems a bit more stressful since he always has a deadline to deliver goods to children and he lives in a very cold part of the world.

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