Sinterklaas Dag starts the Christmas season for area Dutch

Last night my children put out their klumpa (wooden shoes) in hopes that Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas) would pay them a visit as he traveled with his helper Zwarte Piet (Black Peter). This morning, they woke to find their klumpa filled with candy. This family tradition was brought from the Netherlands when my Oma and Opa (grandma and grandpa) immigrated to Rochester long before my birth.

Sinterklaas Dag (Day) is primarily celebrated by Dutch-speaking Europe, but I suspect that our children were not the only ones in the Rochester area to wake up this morning excited to check their klumpa. About 20,000 Monroe County residents (about 2.5 percent of the population) can trace their ancestry to the Netherlands.

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Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piete visited the Ruedin children last night.

The story of Sinterklaas is an old one and existed long before it morphed with the Christian St. Nicholas. Most accounts put it in line with the Germanic mythological God Odin. According to tradition, Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet sail from their home in Spain to the Netherlands in mid-November every year and begin traveling around the country with their white horse. Traditionally, children left carrots in their shoes for the horse in hopes that Sinterklaas would visit them and leave candy. The celebration all leads up to the night of December 5, when Sinterklaas visits all the children, leaving the best present of all, before he and Zwarte Piet return to Spain.

This Dutch tradition of Sinterklaas arrived in the new world with the Dutch people and was a major aspect of the North American Santa Claus figure. Both men come at night down the chimney to the good little children and leave them gifts while they sleep. They are each dressed in a warm red suit and posses white beards.  Most of all, they bring anticipation, joy and delight to the children awaiting their visit. It’s a great way to begin the Christmas season!

~Cornelia Ruedin
Oral History Project Assistant in the Office of the City Historian

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Published in: on December 6, 2013 at 11:53 am  Comments (1)  
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