Sinterklaas (Dutch Santa) is landing in The Netherlands to kick-off the Christmas season.

For North Americans, jolly Santa Claus comes on Christmas Eve. With his magic sleigh, Santa goes down the chimney of everyone’s home dropping off gifts. In The Netherlands, Sinterklaas arrives mid-November and foregoes a magic sleigh for a steamboat and horse.

If you’re an expat or international student new to The Netherlands, now is the time to learn more about the history and story behind Dutch Santa Claus, when he arrives, and the cities you and your family or friends can see him. 

Sinterklaas Versus Santa Claus: Key Differences

Both Santa Claus and Sinterklaas keep track of the children who have been good and those on the naughty list, deliver gifts, have white bears, and dress in red.

But the similarities end there.

Unlike Santa Claus, Sinterklaas is a confirmed bachelor that spends most of the year in Spain.

Other notable differences between the two holiday moguls include:

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    Vehicle of choice: Sinterklaas arrives from Spain on a steamboat and travels around the country in an elegant white and grey horse.
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    Gift giving: Gifts from Dutch Santa are delivered and opened on December 5th.
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    Gift placement: Leading up to December 5th, Dutch children get small gifts from Sinterklaas which he leaves inside their shoes.
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    Apparel: Unlike Santa Claus, Sinterklaas still dresses with religious undertones and sports a red papal gown with a white bishop’s alb and a red mitre emblazoned with a cross.
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    Biography: While Santa’s origin is now commercial, Dutch Santa is still presented as the reincarnation of Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of children. 

Sinterklaas Arrives in The Netherlands

This year Dutch children can expect the official arrival of Sinterklaas on Saturday November 18th in Gorinchem.

For those unable to travel to the city in South Holland, families can watch the national arrival of Sinterklaas on the Dutch television station NPO3.

Sinterklaas, his horse, and crew (Petes) will land via steamboat at 12:00 p.m. and will then ride through the city greeting children and onlookers.

Gorinchem is also coordinating a parade honoring Sinterklaas, including many stages with dance and music.

Sinterklaas in Amsterdam

On Sunday, November 19th Sinterklaas will also land in Amsterdam with his steamboat, horse, and Petes.

Sailing from the Omval via the Amstel, he will disembark by the Maritime Museum where the mayor will give him the keys to the city. Sinterklaas and his team will then travel through Waterlooplein, Rembrandtplein, Utrechtsestraat, Weteringschans, and end in Leidseplein.

If you follow the water route of Sinterklaas’s boat, you can watch him sail into the city. Learn more about the water route and scheduled arrival time here.

For those that would prefer to watch Dutch Santa and the Pieten walk through the city as they hand out candy accompanied by a large procession, you can download the expected route path here.

Other Cities Expecting Sinterklaas

For those not close to Gorinchem or Amsterdam, Sinterklaas is expected to make appearances in a handful of other Dutch cities.

On Saturday, November 18th he will also make an appearance in:  

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    The Hague
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You can also find him on Sunday, November 19th in the following cities:  

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The above are only a handful of main cities Sinterklaas will be visiting during his stay in the country (normally for 2-3 weeks). Along with his Petes, Dutch Santa spends these weeks traveling throughout The Netherlands preparing for the big gift day on December 5th.

You can see the full list of cities he will be visiting here.

Celebrating Dutch Christmas

hether you are celebrating the Christmas season in The Netherlands for the first time, or consider yourself a long-term expat, it is nice to understand how Dutch Christmas unfolds.

Aside from the differences with the traditional Santa Claus from The Northeast, other key differences include the date of celebration. In The Netherlands, you open gifts on December 5th instead of December 25th.

Called pakjesavond, on this night, children get to open the gifts left by Sinterklaas. Families and friends also surprise one another with small gifts or hand-written poems.

If you are an expat, international student, or just moved as a highly skilled migrant for work, mark your calendars for the arrival of Sinterklaas and get a taste for how the Dutch kick-off Christmas season.

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