Start the Christmas Festivities Early with a Visit from the Dutch Santa

My husband’s Dutch grandma taught me that my December 5 birthday is even more special than I knew. December 5 is Sinterklaas day!

Each year my kids put out their winter boots (not made of wood like the Dutch do, but close enough!) filled with carrots and apples for Sinterklaas’ horse. In the morning they wake up to find these boots filled with special treats.

It’s one of our favorite Christmas traditions

Sinterklaas is the Original Santa

During the Revolutionary War in the late 1700’s, Dutch immigrants in New York City reinvented their tradition of Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas) as a way of separating themselves from the Brits’ intended influence.

This Sinterklaas has turned into what American kids know as Santa Claus.

When I was a newlywed I was surprised to receive a chocolate initial from Grandma Rusty on my birthday. As she handed out an initial to each of her other grandchildren, she explained to me that this was a typical gift to give on Sinterklaas Day in the Netherlands.

Part of the celebration was an opportunity for Sinterklaas to help poor children by putting money in their shoes. It has evolved into children in every household putting their wooden shoes by the chimney on the eve of December 5 in hopes that Sinterklaas would leave them special gifts when he visited in the night.

Modern Day Sinterklaas Ideas for December 5

While their peers on the other side of the Atlantic are digging into chocolate letters, pepernoten (a type of gingerbread cookie), or the Dutch biscuits speculaas, my kids receive things to help them celebrate our family’s American Christmas season. Each year they get:

A new Ornament for Their Christmas Tree

My children have their own tree in their bedroom to decorate with the ornaments that they accrue each year. When they grow up they will take these ornaments with them and start out their first Christmas as adults with a beautifully ornamented tree of their own.

A New Character for Their Nativity

We have started building a Nativity out of wooden Holztiger figurines. They are extremely expensive ($11-19 each) so each year we add a new friend to the scene for each child in our family. Instead of waiting till Christmas to open them, we give them on Sinterklaas Day so that they can enjoy them for the majority of Advent.

A Chocolate Initial

I’ve found them at D&W, Fruitbasket Flowerland, and of course, The Dutch Store.

Other Sinterklaas Ideas I’ve Seen

Some families like to receive Christmas PJ’s, a new Christmas album for the holidays or tickets to a holiday performance around town. We’ve also received a new Christmas book in the past.

No matter how you choose to celebrate it, Sinterklaas day is a fun way to celebrate Dutch heritage, which is a big part of West Michigan history. And it’s a great way to kick off the Christmas season with children.