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Useful Notes / Sinterklaas

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The Good Holy man.

Ever wondered where Santa Claus actually originated from? Well...

In the later half of The Roman Empire, there lived an actual Saint Nicholas of Myra, who lived in present day Turkey.note  In the Netherlands and Belgium, Saint Nicholas remained a popular Saint, appearing annually in the night between 5 and 6 December to bring presents to all the children who had been good. Eventually he became colloquially known as "Sinterklaas", a Portmanteau of sorts of "Sint Nicolaas". Despite being derived from Roman Catholic traditions, he is now celebrated by Dutch and Belgian children and adults of all backgrounds, regardless of their religion, if any. While there are many similarities between Sinterklaas and Santa Claus, in Belgium and the Netherlands they are seen as two separate folklore characters, and thus both are celebrated in December (Sinterklaas on the evening of 5 December; Christmas, as the rest of the (at least historically Catholic or Protestant) world does, on 25 December).

Sinterklaas is an old, good-natured bearded man dressed in bishop's vestments. He lives in Spain most of the year and travels to the Low Countries by steam boat annually, arriving there end of November. He is welcomed by the mayor of the city where his steam boat arrives, and this is broadcast live on TV each year. After holding a speech, Sinterklaas mounts his white horse and rides throughout the city. He is accompanied by several black helpers who are all called "Zwarte Piet" ("Black Pete"). Zwarte Piet throws candy and cookies at the good children, but will punish the bad ones by beating them with a birch rod and carrying them off to Spain in a bag (this, of course, never actually happens). While Sinterklaas is in the country, in the evening children put their shoes next to the chimney and sing carols, hoping their shoe will be filled with candy or small gifts during the night. Sinterklaas' birthday is celebrated on the evening of December 5th (the eve of his actual birthday, which is on the 6th), and includes more candy and gifts, while adults generally write each other (sometimes snide) poems.

Because St. Nicholas was a bishop, "Sinterklaas" is always dressed in a bishop's robe and mitre. The character Santa Claus later took his name, beard and red suit. Still, many foreigners think that Sinterklaas is a rip-off of Santa Claus, instead of the other way around.

As for Zwarte Piet: there are many explanations behind his appearance and character, ranging from a black devil forced to do good deeds by the Saint, to an Ethiopian slave Sinterklaas freed and who stayed with him out of gratitude. He has caused a lot of confusion among tourists unfamiliar with the tradition, as well as Dutch people who see it as racist. Not many people in Belgium or the Netherlands would see Zwarte Piet as an African stereotype, and his dark skin is usually explained to children as being a result of the chimney dirt. Thus Zwarte Piet isn't an actual black man, but a white man who just accidentally got his complexion changed. His threatening image has been downplayed as well: he is no longer a Scary Black Man who wants to punish kids, but a jolly, playful Manchild who provides comic relief to the audience. Still, some choose to be safe by depicting Zwarte Piet as simply being a "sooty" man with a natural skin tone and no lipstick or earrings, or replace him outright with The Krampus (a demon who fills a similar role to Piet's without the potential racial aspects). This variation is nicknamed the "Sooty Piet" (in Dutch: Roetveegpiet).

Sinterklaas should not be confused with voice actor Michael Sinterniklaas.


  • The yearly televised entrance which is in a different city every year
  • Subject of many annual Dutch children's songs.
  • The song the Dutch child sings to Santa Claus in Miracle on 34th Street, "Sinterklaas Kapoentje", is actually a real Sinterklaas carol, though not addressed at Santa Claus, but Sinterklaas!
  • Alles Is Liefde, being a Dutch reinterpretation of the British, Christmas-set Love Actually, entirely revolves about this character and his holiday. It takes place in the few weeks from when the character "arrives from Spain in Holland" up to the climax of Sinterklaas Eve. The movie can actually be considered a deconstruction, as it blatantly shows how Sinterklaas is actually played by an (unwilling, and very cynical about it) actor.
  • Several television series around the character exist, including De Club Van Sinterklaas, Slot Marsepeinstein and Het Grote Sinterklaas Verhaal, as well as several movies. The plots of those shows, made for child audiences, is pretty much about Saving Christmas.
  • Featured in the Flemish children's TV show "Dag Sinterklaas" (1993), which is still annually broadcast on Flemish public TV. Sinterklaas' role is played by actor Jan Decleir.
  • Featured as regular character in the Flemish comic strip Nero. The main cast is often visited by him and his donkey (who claims to be a horse). Apparently, Nero is the only adult who still believes that Sinterklaas exists.
  • In De Kiekeboes album Prettige Feestdagen (Happy Holidays) two burglars who serve different bosses try to sneak in Kiekeboe's house. One of them disguises himself as Sinterklaas, the other as Santa Claus. Naturally they accidentally meet each other and decide to fight.
  • Frequently lovably spoofed in the short columns by Dutch author Godfried Bomans.
  • Satirized in the classic comedy routine, "Snieklaas" by Dutch comedian Toon Hermans.
  • Satirized in the Dutch sketch comedy show "Jiskefet", with comedian Hans Teeuwen as a perverted version of Sinterklaas.
  • Featured in an episode of FC De Kampioenen.
  • Featured in several episodes of Samson En Gert.
  • Annually featured in Sesamstraat, the Dutch version of Sesame Street.
  • Spoofed in the controversial Dutch comedy horror movie Sint (2010) by Dick Maas, in which he is reimagined as a murderous phantom. The movie poster caused many parents to file a complaint, but the judge decided that Sinterklaas' murderous face on the poster wasn't visible enough to be of major concern to small children.
  • Studio100 series Kabouter Plop did a cover of the song "Sinterklaas Kapoentje"
  • A cartoonishly violent version of him is a recurring character in Ome Henk. When a crook pretending to be him was trying to scam people into buying Sinterklaas' stolen gifts, Sinterklaas lost it and began to beat up said crook.
  • He's one of the Christmas traditions mentioned in the "Where Santa Has a Different Name" song in Caillou's Holiday Movie.
  • David Sedaris' essay, "Six to Eight Black Men", is a humorous take on the tradition from an American outsider's perspective.
  • Playable in the platformer Sint Nicolaas.
  • In this Scandinavia and the World, the Anthropomorphic Personifications of South Africa and the Netherlands appear as Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet... respectively.
  • Atlanta plays the Values Dissonance for all its worth by having black protagonists Alfred "Paper Boi" Miles and Earnest "Earn" Marks react accordingly (read: in sheer horror) during their visit to the Netherlands which happens in the middle of the celebration. Paper Boi actually cancels his concert in Amsterdam when he sees the entire audience dressed as Zwarte Piet. The explanation for this doesn't piss him off less.

This folkloric character provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Adaptation Overdosed: Almost every Dutch-language film, book, TV series, sketch show,... directed at a family audience will feature Sinterklaas at one point.
  • Bag of Holding: Sinterklaas has a large bag in which all kinds of presents fit in.
  • Black Face: The Dutch-Belgian Sinterklaasfeest has been controversial since the 1930s, because Sinterklaas has a servant named "Zwarte Piet" ("Black Pete"),who is basically either a black slave or a white guy in blackface. Many people in the Netherlands and Belgium don't see this as racist, especially since it's often told that he's black because of the chimney dirt, but due to Values Dissonance tourists are often horrified when they see Dutchmen and Belgians celebrating blackface servants. As recently as 2013, the United Nations, under the authority of the High Commissioner for Human Rights were to investigate whether Zwarte Piet is a racist stereotype. The Dutch prime minister responded by stating that the Sinterklaas celebration is a tradition for children in the Netherlands, and that he cannot change anything about it. However, the figure has gotten more and more controversial among the Dutch population in the last couple of years, with a growing number of people wanting to see him either take on a different appearance (which some have done by depicting Zwarte Piet as a white man with some soot smudges, this variation is nicknamed Roetveegpiet) or disappear altogether.
  • Cool Boat: Sinterklaas travels by steam boat from Spain to the Netherlands.
  • Cool Horse: Sinterklaas' horse is able to ride on rooftops.
  • Cool Old Guy: Sinterklaas is this very much, especially for younger children. Who wouldn't admire an old man who gives presents?
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: The first few televised entrances were just broadcasts of a local entrance event instead of made-for-television productions. Also, he had a Spanish assistant too. Also, until 1934 Sinterklaas tended to be a invisible character.
  • Folk Hero: The Sint is a folk hero to all Belgians and Dutchmen and women.
  • Follow the Leader: Inspired Santa Claus.
  • Good Cop/Bad Cop: Sinterklaas is always sympathetic, but Zwarte Piet can be menacing.
  • How Can Santa Deliver All Those Toys?: You could ask the same question about Sinterklaas.
  • Manchild: later portrayals of Zwarte Piet.
  • Never Bareheaded: In the modern Belgian portrayal of Sinterklaas, he never takes off his signature red mitre.
  • Older Than They Look: Sinterklaas is almost a thousand years old.
  • Planet of Steves: All of Sinterklaas' servants are called "Piet".
  • Really 700 Years Old: Sinterklaas
  • The Rival: Santa Claus, who is basically a rip-off of Sinterklaas, down to the name!
  • Scare 'Em Straight: If you don't behave Zwarte Piet will punish you.
  • Scary Black Man: Zwarte Piet
  • Sidekick: Zwarte Piet
  • Would Hurt a Child: Sinterklaas wouldn't, but Zwarte Piet might.