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  • Martina Lucic

Sinterklaas vs De Kerstman (santa claus)

If you have been living in The Netherlands for a while, you have noticed we celebrate two holidays in December. We have the holiday Pakjesavond, celebrated on December 5th and 6th (Sinterklaas). Read my previous blog if you’d like to know what we do on these days and where it comes from. And we celebrate Christmas (Kerstmis) on December 25th and 26th, of which De Kerstman (Santa Claus) is the patron.

What's the difference?

Let’s look at both figures, how do they look, where do they live and more. So on the left, we have Sinterklaas. We know he's a saint, wears a red cape, a miter on his head, has a normal posture, white beard and brings gifts to children. He comes from Turkey, lives in Spain and has a horse that helps him bring the presents around and he also has helpers. Sinterklaas looks very sophisticated and wears classy black shoes, that you don't often see because his robe touches the floor.

On the right, we see De Kerstman. He has a red suit and white beard as well, but is not a saint. He wears black boots and a belt and has a big round belly. Doesn’t wear a miter on his head. Usually wears nothing, but sometimes a Christmas hat, the fluffy one like you can see on the picture. De Kerstman also has different kind of helpers, he has eight reindeer that help him bring the presents around and has elves in The North pole, where he lives, that make the presents for him. On Christmas eve, he fills his sleigh with all these presents and delivers them to all the children in the world.

What’s interesting is that both Sinterklaas and De Kerstman deliver their presents through the chimney, well in Sinterklaas’ case he uses his helpers. But there must a connection here. And there is!

How did this happen?

Apparently Sinterklaas came first. In the 19th century, Sinterklaas was already celebrated in The Netherlands. Dutch migrants moved to the United States of America to New Amsterdam, now called New York, where they introduced and celebrated Sinterklaas. Thanks to these stories and traditions, but also the work of Clement Clarke Moore, Santa Claus (De Kerstman) was born in the US. The description of how Santa Claus looks, was different from Sinterklaas as the Dutch know him. So his image changed and people connected Santa Claus closer to Christmas. So it’s not a coincidence the names Sinterklaas and Santa Claus originate from Saint Nikolaas, because they are both based on the same person.

So the fact that De Kerstman became an important figure in the Dutch culture is actually because the Dutch brought Sinterklaas to the US, the Americans created their own new image and tradition of Santa Claus. This new tradition and figure made its way back to The Netherlands again, so now we have both. Are you still with me? I know, confusing, but hey, it’s tradition and it brings joy. I think that’s what’s most important.

We also know Santa Claus or De Kerstman from the famous Coca Cola commercials. People often think that Coca Cola invented Santa Claus, but that's not the case. Haddon Sundblom was merely the first one to draw Santa Claus as the friendly, big-bellied man as we know him now, but there were already stories describing him in this way.

So here you have it. I know there's more cultures and countries that have some sort of saint-like figure who comes during a specific time of the year and brings presents to children, but for know I wanted to focus on the Dutch and American Santa Claus / Kerstman. I hope you had fun reading and I wish you happy holidays and a wonderful, healthy and lovely New Year!

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