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Sinterklaas, Santa Claus… Same, same, but different? Posted by on Feb 23, 2010 in Dutch Language

If you are a bit familiar with the Dutch culture, you probably heard about Sinterklaas, an old man with a white beard who gives presents to good kids on the night of December fifth. And if you did hear of him, you might also wonder what the difference is between him and Santa Claus, because they kind of look alike and kind of do the same thing, don’t they?

Well, that’s true. And that’s because they both represent the same man. For those who forgot a bit about the history of this old do-gooder, let me refresh your memory in a brief piece of history.

Saint Nicolas was a religious man from Myra, Turkey. As a bishop he meant a lot to the people, especially the poor. Because of his love and dedication to others, the Catholic church gave him the status of saint, and so the name Saint Nicolas came into the world.

On the fifth of December, people celebrate his birthday and his goodness, although his actual birthday is on December the sixth. As you might know, the Sint throws candy, which is also based on his giving nature. He died on the sixth of December in 342. Because he was buried in Italy (then under Spanish control), people say he is from Spain. The history about Sinterklaas’ helpers, the Zwarte Pieten, is not really clear, and the image of this character causes a lot of discussion these days. Some think its racist that they are black, which led to the idea to paint them purple, green, with stripes and dots et cetera.

But I am getting sidetracked. So we had Sinterklaas and emigrants brought this holy man to the United States. Over there Sinterklaas turned into Santa Claus, but it wasn’t until Coca Cola started a huge campaign that he got his worldwide fame. His red and white outfit was based on the logo of this drink. But not every country in the world followed the American creation. An example is Joulupukki, the Finnish character for Santa Claus. Joulupukki is a dwarf and knocks on doors instead of climbing through chimneys. Maybe the chubby Santa Claus and tiny Joulupukki should exchange costumes… But that is another story.

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