As the festive season has begun in the Netherlands last week, let’s delve into the enchanting history of Santa Claus, tracing his roots from the beloved Dutch tradition of Sinterklaas to the iconic figure we know today!

Did you know that Santa Claus is derived from the Dutch Sinterklaas – a popular Dutch and Flemish feast celebrated on the evening of December 5? This bishop basically first came to the Netherlands and then moved to America.

Sint-Nicolaas (aka Saint Nicholas) as we know him in The Low Countries, was the Bishop of Mira, who lived in Turkey in the 3rd century. According to the legend, he saved the town from starvation and offered gifts to poor children and as a result became the patron saint of children. This feast of Sinterklaas is still celebrated today in the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, northern France, Catholic parts of Germany and also in former Dutch colonies like Suriname and Aruba.

Dutch immigrants took Sinterklaas with them as cherished tradition to the Dutch colonial town of New Amsterdam (aka New York). In fact, the New York Gazetteer mentioned in 1773 the celebration of “St. A Claus” by descendants of the Dutch families. It stayed a typical Dutch and German tradition for many years. Until the 20th century – jumping 150 years – in 1931 Santa Claus gets his American face as we know him today, created by art director Haddon Sundblom, who first draws Father Christmas, Saint Nick, or Santa Claus, for a big Coca-Cola advertising campaign. He kept doing this for decades and this created eventually the cuddly, jolly fellow as a key figure in American Christmas imagery.
But in Dutch we still rather celebrate Sinterklaas first on December 5 with small gifts and then three weeks later the bigger gifts with Christmas without referring to this guy dressed in red.

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