Sinterklaas or Nikolaus?

In our family, we celebrate both Sinterklaas and Nikolaus. But what’s the difference? Well, I did not grow up with either one, so I’ve been learning about them both since my kids were born 🙂  Here’s what I understand….

Sinterklaas is Dutch. He lives in Spain with his many helpers, the zwarte pieten. They help him with all the preparations, and each one has a specific job. They do not make the toys, as Santa’s elves do. I understand that there has been controversy over the “black Petes” because they wear blackface when they dress up. One solution has been to change it to colored Petes, so now they have vibrant faces in all colors.

In mid-November, Sinterklaas travels by boat with many Petes to the Netherlands. You can always see his arrival on the news that night! He docks in a different port each year. He visits children in the schools. And any time after he arrives, children may put out a shoe (just one! you don’t want to look greedy!) and some carrots for his horse. In the morning they will find it filled with treats.

Some time on December 5th, the presents arrive. The Petes help with the deliveries, and often they have a lot of fun being sneaky with their deliveries. And of course, they are never seen! Perhaps a doorbell rings, and when the children open the door, there are the presents! Or if you live in an apartment building, maybe they will be left on a deck! This is the day when children get their presents, as there is not delivery on the 25th.

In our house, the Petes always prepare a scavenger hunt for the kids to find their gift. This year, they were super sneaky! They even used my wrapping paper to wrap one of the gifts! And since they know we get a visit from Santa, too, they only bring something small – usually an ornament.

Here are some toys of Sinterklaas that we have:

On the left is a Pakjesboot with Sinterklaas in it. On the right is the Playmobil toy. You can see that the boat is a steam boat. And Sinterklaas rides a white horse. Can you see the zwarte piet in the back of the boat on the left?

Now if you buy a Playmobil Nikolaus toy, you will get the same figure on a horse! But no boat. So I guess they do look alike!

As far as I know, there isn’t quite as much to the German story of Nikolaus. On the evening of the 5th, children clean their boots and put one out. When they wake up in the morning, there are treats (nuts, mandarines, chocolates) and maybe a small present.

Some families tell of how Nikolaus travels with Knecht Ruprecht, who is responsible for the naughty children. He might leave a switch or lumps of coal in their shoes instead of sweets. In other traditions, they are accompanied by Krampus, a horned, goat-like creature who terrorizes the naughty children or might carry them away in his sack. (They are not, however, to be confused with the Dutch zwarte piet. The Petes are friendly and mischievous.) We don’t talk about Ruprecht or Krampus in our house 🙂

In our house Sinterklaas and Nikolaus must communicate in some way. Because one of them brings an ornament and the other brings holiday pajamas. But you never know who will bring which one! Sinterklaas usually brings a little toy (like a small box of Legos) and some Dutch treats, like stroopwafel and peppernote. Nikolaus just brings sweets – like lollipops (since Froggy isn’t too fond of chocolate) – and the ornament or pajamas.

How do you celebrate Sinterklaas or Nikolaus??

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