Some visitors get confused, and I can understand them. When they’re walking around in Bruges, they go in the chocolate shops and see two different Santa’s standing.

When asking what’s that all about, they get the reply that there is “Sinterklaas” and “Santa Claus”. But, wait a minute… If you translate Sinterklaas, that IS Santa Claus… What the hell??

In Belgium and the Netherlands (generally the former Dutch colonies) we have two “Santa’s”. The first is Sinterklaas (as we call him) and that’s celebrated on December 6th. Where the heck did he come from?

Well, somewhere in the 2nd- 3rdcentury there was a Bisshop Nicolaas of Myra who lived in Turkey (the country, not the bird…) and died on… December 6th342. Due to some legends, he became patron for children. Legends were of 3 schoolchildren beaten to death by an innkeeper but revived by St Nicolaas, 3 poor daughters who could still get married thanks to the gifts given by St Nicolaas or the legend of a child being put in a bath by St Nicolaas to protect him from a fire.

You may notice that “Sinterklaas” is kinda sounding like Saint Nicolaas but it’s not exactly the same. The aggregation happened somewhere in the late 1200’s. Since then he was considered the big friend for all children, giving out candy and presents. During the history his role changed to a bogeyman who rewarded the good children, but punished the bad by putting them in a bag.

In the 1700’s it was changed back to the good man we know today, using the bag for putting the presents in, not kids…

So he changed from patron for children, to a bogeyman, strict pedagogue into the folkloric friend for all children we have today.

Santa Claus comes from Saint Nicolaas. Remember there where a lot of Dutch when the new colonies were started? Well, in time the name changed and with the reformation and contra reformation a lot changed. Protestants banned the feast of St Nicolaas. But it was so popular with the common people it didn’t completely disappear. It transformed.

The first drawing of the Santa Claus we know today is from Thomas Nast in 1881. I added a picture of it below.

The American Santa Claus is probably a mix of Father Christmas and Saint Nicolaas.

So don’t go saying Santa Claus to Saint Nicolaas in Belgium, it is totally different.

Saint Nicolaas rides a horse, accompagnied by his helpers (Zwarte Pieten). Santa Claus has his sleigh with the reindeers and is helped by his elves. Common is the mistake people say Saint Nicolaas lives in Spain, but he only travels to Spain to get the gifts and sweets. Santa Claus lives on the North Pole.

I’d like to finish with a poem… Yes I know, it’s not my habit in doing this, but it’s such a known, and nice poem. In 1823 an unknown author published A visit from St Nicholas. Enjoy !

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,

In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,

While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;

And mamma in her ’kerchief, and I in my cap,

Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap,

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,

I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.

Away to the window I flew like a flash,

Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow

Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,

But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,

I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.

More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,

And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;

“Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!

On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!

To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!

Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,

When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;

So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,

With the sleigh full of Toys, and St. Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof

The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.

As I drew in my head, and was turning around,

Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,

And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;

A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,

And he looked like a pedler just opening his pack.

His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!

His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!

His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow

And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,

And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;

He had a broad face and a little round belly,

That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,

And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;

A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,

Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,

And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,

And laying his finger aside of his nose,

And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,

And away they all flew like the down of a thistle,

But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,

“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night.”