Are Santa Claus and Saint Nicholas the same or ‘brothers’?
Daughter Sam figuring as Santa Claus at Georgetown Visitation, Washington, D.C., schmoozing with Papa John.
The Dutch (and Belgium/Luxemburg and northern France) celebrate ‘Sinterklaas’ (or Saint Nicolas in French) on the evening of December 5 and the morning of December 6 (Belgium/France). In Holland, this is a major festivity, which keeps the children in great expectations of what gifts they will get, on the condition that they behave well. The Dutch Sinterklaas is the precursor of the British/American Santa Claus, which is celebrated at Christmas. Most Americans probably don’t know that, but the American Santa tradition emerged from the Dutch settlers in New Amsterdam, now New York. How this happened is lively described by Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sinterklaas) and I will not repeat it here, but as a Dutch family in the US, we celebrated Sinterklaas with the children when they were young (from 4 to 8) and still believed that Sinterklaas really existed.
Sinterklaas comes around on a white horse that can fly over the rooftops, and drops gifts through the chimneys with the help of his servants, called ‘Black Peters’. The origin for this story is that at some stage the bishop Nicholas moved from Turkey to Spain in the middle ages, and in Spain, wealthy people had servants from northern Africa (‘Moors’) who are brown skinned. The ‘Black Peters’ are nowadays in uproar in the Netherlands because of a culture clash with inhabitants from Surinam and Africa, even though Black Peters were never considered a ‘racial’ matter before. But politics have a tendency to destroy the fun of long-established national customs.
At the time we were on assignment in Bangladesh (1980-1984), the Dutch diplomatic and foreign aid community always celebrated Sinterklaas enthusiastically, and for us parents, the period leading up to it was a perfect time to keep ‘the kids’ in good behavior. Every night they put their shoes out (in the living room) and if they were well-behaved they found a little gift from Sinterklaas. If they did not behave well, they could be ‘punished’ by Sinterklaas when, on December 5, they met him and his ‘Black Peters’ who would put a bad boy in a jute bag to take him to Spain to drill school (of course, if they put one in a jute bag, he was released a short while later).
The main differences between Sinterklaas en Santa Claus are that Sinterklaas rides a horse that flies, and Santa sits on a coach pulled by flying reindeer. Sinterklaas has Black Peters as servants while Santa is accompanied by elves who do not punish children for bad behavior. William Bennet wrote an interesting book about ‘The True Saint Nicolas’ worth reading: https://amzn.to/2LxG8lg
Below follow some pictures of a happy Sinterklaas childhood.
The Dutch Ambassador, H.E. Pim Damstee, receives Sinterklaas at the Dutch Embassy in Dhaka, Bangladesh, surrounded by expat children, and followed by his ‘Black Peter’.
Son Dave (6) absorbing a well-deserved dressing-down by Sinterklaas, reading from his notes about Dave’s bad behavior he’d heard about. Dave narrowly escaped the jute bag.
Sam, whose behavior was more cautious in the face of possible ‘punishment’ by a Black Peter, walks away happily with a gift.
On return to Washington, years later, the Sinterklaas fun continued for the grandkids, at the Dutch Embassy in Washington, D.C. The festivity is organized by the Dutch club “DC Dutch” in collaboration with the Dutch Ambassador.
The Dutch Ambassador, H.E. Renée Jones-Bos, receives Sinterklaas at the Embassy for the annual Sinterklaas festivity (picture dates from December 2011). We knew Renée when she was a young Third Secretary at the Dutch Embassy in Dhaka, Bangladesh where we became good friends. We met her again when she was stationed in Washington as Embassy Counsel, and given her brilliant reputation, we were not surprised to see her nominated Ambassador to Washington years later, one of the highest posts of the diplomatic service. In 2012, she was appointed Secretary General of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the highest level of the civil service, a post she held until 2016 when she became Ambassador to Moskou where she is still today. She was selected as ‘the most powerful Dutch Woman.’ Quite a career!
Son David in animated discussion with the Ambassador, her husband Dr. Richard Jones (UK), a writer, sharing in the amusement.
Black Peter entertains grandson Preston and his dad.
Next, Preston John meets Sinterklaas, expecting his gift.
Sinterklaas hands Preston John, called PJ for short, his gift, Black Peter looking on. No jute bag this time.
PJ’s younger sister, Sadie Rose, takes Sinterklaas and all Black Peters for granted and goes for a snooze. She knows she will see her gift later,
PJ to the contrary is admiring his gift.
Merry Christmas to you all, from Santa Claus!
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