Elf on the Shelf is Out: Sinterklaas is the New, Easier Christmas Tradition

Sinterklaas Feature Image

Start the Christmas Festivities Early with a Visit from Sinterklaas, 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 Eve!

Celebrated in the Netherlands from December 5-6, Sinterklaas Day is a fun way to start the Christmas season in the United States as we await December 25.

It’s also a lot easier than the Elf on the Shelf craze. Elf on the Shelf is fun, if you have unlimited energy. Parents who are looking for an alternative to Elf on the Shelf, though, can get the kids just as jazzed about Christmas with a celebration that culminates in one day of the season: Sinterklaas Day.

This year with the pandemic bearing down on us, many around the world could be stuck at home, missing out on key Christmas celebrations. Sinterklaas Day, though, is one event that you can celebrate, pandemic or not. And it’s super easy to do.

Sinterklaas Day is our Favorite, Easiest Christmas Tradition

Sinterklaas Day has long been a tradition for West Michigan families, as this area was heavily settled by Dutch immigrants. But really, Sinterklaas Day can be celebrated anywhere in the world, and you don’t even have to be Dutch to get in on the fun!

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.

Sinterklaas boots Hunt

Sinterklaas is the OG Santa Claus

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.

Sinterklaas Day 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.

  SINTERKLAAS DAY IDEAS

Modern Sinterklaas Day 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.

I do not wrap these gifts. (Sinterklaas doesn’t wrap gifts at my house and he doesn’t have to at yours, either.) The key is to keep this as simple as possible.

Here are some ideas for celebrating Sinterklaas Day with your kids. Choose one idea. Choose them all. Do whatever brings you joy and does not stress you out.

1 – 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.

Sometimes we go with a theme for the kids (one collects Snowman ornaments and another collects Reindeer) and sometimes we choose ornaments that will commemorate something special about the past year. This year my oldest is getting this super clever Stranger Things ornament, after she discovered the show this year and is hooked. The other two kids have been singing Hamilton songs every. day. so they’re getting a King George and Schuyler Sisters ornaments.

Years from now they’ll be able to reminisce these fun childhood memories as they decorate their Christmas trees.

Even if your kid doesn’t have their own Christmas tree right now, you can still start an ornament box for them. Give it to them when they get their own place and it’ll be the perfect housewarming gift, all thanks to Sinterklaas.

2 – A Chocolate Initial + Candy

Chocolate initials are the mainstay of Sinterklaas treats. In West Michigan, I’ve found them at D&W, Fruitbasket Flowerland, Peter’s Gourmet in Grandville, and of course, The Dutch Store in Holland.

Other notable Dutch treats include pepernoten (a type of gingerbread cookie), or the Dutch biscuits speculaas. 

But really, you can make up whatever treats you want to put into their boots!

3 – A  Special Toy to Celebrate the Season

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.

Maybe your family has another holiday collection. Some families like a train under the Christmas tree. Perhaps you could build on your set each year. Others put up Christmas village displays.

And if you don’t want to collect one more thing to bring out each Christmas, we have lots of other great Sinterklaas Day ideas:

Other Neat Sinterklaas Ideas

Like with any celebration, Sinterklaas Day is what you make of it. Put your own twist on this Dutch holiday! What works for your family? What will excite your kids about the Christmas season? Here are some things I’ve seen my friends do:

Christmas Pajamas | Normally reserved for Christmas Eve, giving out Christmas pj’s on Sinterklaas will let the kids enjoy them the whole season.

Tickets to a Holiday Show | We love Christmas performances around here, so tickets to the Nutcracker or a Christmas symphony or any other show is the perfect treat for the Sinterklaas boot.

A new Christmas album | If you’re a musical family, get a new Christmas cd!

A new Christmas book | Christmas picture books are beautiful read alouds for the family, and enjoyed by all ages.

No matter how you choose to celebrate it, Sinterklaas day is a fun way to celebrate West Michigan’s Dutch heritage, or just to have an excuse to start an easy “Christmas” celebration at home, without all the pressures of making the perfect meal or decorating just so or remembering move the dang elf. Just choose some special treats for your family and go!

It’s a great way to kick off the Christmas season with children.

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