Welcome to the Whole Story of Sinterklaas!
This is the celebration where children are transformed into Kings and Queens and honored as the bringers of the light at the darkest time of year.
The tradition of Sinterklaas comes all the way from the Netherlands, brought by Dutch settlers who arrived in Rhinebeck over 300 years ago. Sinterklaas, the patron of children and sailors, finds a welcoming community in the Mid-Hudson Valley as we re-create the story through the lens of modern-day America.
Our revived tradition is non-denominational and all inclusive — everyone is invited to participate! The young, the old, the in-between — absolutely everyone and anyone who wants to be part of a community of hope for a joyous and peaceful world are all welcome. Read our Statement HERE regarding our relationship to the Dutch history in early America.
On this website you will find more than a schedule to help you navigate the plethora of events and activities to be discovered in the weeks prior to, as well as the festival day in Rhinebeck. You will also find the history, the stories, and the details that will add to the richness of the experience for you and your family!
What is Sinterklaas all about?
The Sinterklass festival references our region’s Dutch heritage by re-envisioning the celebration that the Dutch settlers brought to Rhinebeck over 300 years ago. We do it differently–made especially for our community!!
In Holland, mounted on a white steed, a town resident dressed up as Sinterklaas (elegantly garbed in a bishop’s tall hat, red cape, shiny ring, and jeweled staff) rode through town knocking on doors late at night.
Over the years, Sinterklaas’ ride turned into a Parade that still takes place every December 6 in Holland. It is the most popular of all Dutch holidays.
Who Was this Sinterklaas?
Nicholas Sinterklaas was born in the 4th century in Myra, Asia Minor, and there became a bishop. Little else is known about him—except that he loved children.
A story is told about three little boys who dined at a restaurant and, after eating their fill, informed the innkeeper that they could not pay their bill. To exact payment, the innkeeper chopped them up into little bits and cooked them in a stew.
Nicholas heard about the awful deed and came to the inn to find the boys boiling away in the pot. He told the innkeeper that if he, Nicholas, could find one little piece of each boy that was good, he would perform a miracle and bring him back to life. What child does not have at least one little piece of good in him? And, so Nicholas Sinterklaas returned the boys to life and took them into his care.
There is also the story of the three beautiful sisters, daughters of a poor peasant. The first had very blonde hair, the second raven black hair, the third auburn. Each fell in love with a pleasant young man but couldn’t get married because they had no dowry. That made them very sad. One night, as Sinterklaas was out riding, he looked through a window and saw three lovely, sad sisters. When he heard why they could not marry the young men of their choice, he returned to his palace and gave the Grumpus three little bags. In each bag was a hundred golden ducats. He asked the Grumpus to drop the little bags into the girls’ shoes, and an hour later they were rich. They married the three nice young men and lived happily ever after! To this day children leave a carrot in their shoes hoping to attract Sinterklaas’ attention and reward. Since then Sinterklaas (or St. Nicholas as he is also known) has become the patron saint of unwed maidens.
How this kindly 4th century bishop made his way from Asia Minor through Italy, Spain and all of Northern Europe century is unknown, but by in the 11th century he had become the patron saint not only of children and unwed maidens, but of sailors and the City of Amsterdam as well.
Sinterklaas today in Holland
In Amsterdam, on December 5th a ship carrying Sinterklaas arrives by boat from Spain where he spends the rest of the year. A million people come out to see his arrival and watch his triumphant parade through the streets of the city. The rest of the country watches on TV. Special songs and pastries are made in honor of his arrival. Read our Statement HERE regarding the present day celebration in the Netherlands.
St. Nicholas, Sinterklaas, and Santa Claus in the Hudson Valley
When the early Dutch settlers came to America, they brought with them their venerated old bishop. St. Nicholas and their favorite holiday, Sinterklaas. Indeed, the Dutch explorers dedicated their first church on the island of Manhattan, in 1642, to Sinterklaas. When the British took control of New Amsterdam in 1664, they merged Sinterklaas with their Father Christmas—the merry, roly-poly, Falstaffian figure in high boots.
Over the next few generations, Sinterklaas found his way into American literature. In 1809, writer Washington Irving (a man who lived not far from Rhinebeck) created a jolly Sinterklaas for his popular Knickerbocker Tales. Then in 1822, an Episcopal priest named Clement Moore (who also lived near to Rhinebeck) wrote “A Visit from St. Nicholas” which featured a jolly old elf, his descent down a chimney on Christmas Eve, and a sleigh drawn by eight tiny reindeer. The Father Christmas image stuck, but he acquired a new name—Santa Claus—a direct derivation from Sinterklaas.
Making the Celebration our Own: Transforming the Story!
Today, in the Hudson Valley, we celebrate Sinterklaas in both traditional and new ways. We take away the bad and emphasize and expand the good! In Rhinebeck we turn the Old Dutch tradition upside down and transform negative symbols into empowering ones. We move away from the commercial Santa and back to the wonders that began the legend—The Good King, the Noble Soul, the one who brings light out of darkness, befriends children and animals, and inspires our souls. He is accompanied by a merry band of candy men and pranksters –the Grumpus–who love children and are ready to play! Children are not judged good or naughty, but celebrated as the future of our Town and our most beloved treasures.
Good Children, Bad Children
What is the meaning of the Crowns and Branches that are made by and carried by the Children in the Parade? Since St. Nicholas loved children so much, it makes sense on his name day, that children—who at all other times of the year are the least powerful people in the society—are turned into the most powerful for just one day. Children are crowned kings and queens!
The birch rod—the threatening instrument of time-long ago—in our Sinterklaas story is transformed by the power imagination and art into a symbol of empowerment and love to become the Branch—the Royal Scepter—a symbol of creative power in the hands of today’s children.
The rods are turned to Royal Scepters and the Children are crowned royalty for the day!
Crowns and Branches
There will be workshops in Rhinebeck in November for children to create their Crowns and Branches. Check the schedule for time and location.
Hundreds of beautiful branches will be laid out alongside lots of beautiful, glittery, and fanciful materials—jewels, ribbons, glitter, lace, streamers—with which the children can create their royal garb! At the end of the day each child has a scepter to carry in the Parades and to take home. Each child will be asked to tie 3 WISHES onto their branch—one for family, for community and for the World.
And in the same location, is the Wish Ladies, who help children make their wishes.
Carrying Stars for the Children’s Starlight Parade and Pageant
The STARS are a unique addition we’ve made to the Sinterklaas celebrations. These STARS make families, friends, and relations the active myth makers of our community and its future!
From the moment you take possession of your star, you assume a key role in a community ritual.
On the first Saturday of December, carry your stars in the Children’s Starlight Parade in Rhinebeck. Hundreds of your neighbors, friends, and family join in an illuminated pageant through the heart of town.
A gathering constellation lights the path for the many children who, bedecked with their crowns and branches, are the honored Kings and Queens of the Day. At the end of the procession, everyone gathers for the final ritual of the pageant. The Master of Ceremonies calls upon all those present to honor our children, our hope for the future, our joy of today.
He asks you to bow down on one knee to the children and hold your STAR at the children’s waist level, elevating the children on a sea of stars above everyone in the community. Then you are asked to stand again and raise your star above your heads—thus placing you, the children and the entire community in its proper place in the firmament—all of us as one and at peace under the stars. And you can bring your star back next year, adding to an ever-expanding universe of stars, helping to nurture a Rhinebeck tradition.
This year the STARS are available online and at select stores in Rhinebeck including on the festival day.
Just before the Children’s Starlight Parade begins in Rhinebeck, a special ceremony, havdalah, takes place at the foot of the hill on West Market Street. Led by the children and folks from the Rhinebeck Hebrew School and Temple Emmanuel, this beautiful Jewish Ceremony marks the end of the Jewish Sabbath and opens up the secular time of The Sinterklaas Parade. The Havdalah Ceremony weaves together of all our community in a web of interdependence, symbolized by intertwined candles.
After the Parade the beginning of the Christian Sabbath starts with the Living Nativity at the Reformed Church.
The Hudson Valley celebrates Sinterklaas with a parade. The Children’s Starlight Parade, is on the first Saturday in December at the end of Sinterklaas Festival Day in Rhinebeck.
Who is in the parade? (to name just a few!!!)
- HEAR, HEAR! Uncle DeWitt’s Bell heralds the way.
- SINTERKLAAS with his white horse.
- THE HOLDERS OF THE LIGHT 2023 The Savona Family!
- THE SEVEN SISTERS. Stars from the cosmos that look down on us from afar and allow us to look up and dream. And their Seven Little Sisters.
- THE HONORED ANIMAL: The Ant, perseverance, energetic, hard-working, industrious and lively
- THE GRUMPUSES are his wild sidekicks who carry out Sinterklaas’ judgment on the children—either switches for the bad or candies for the good. But, our Grumpuses are people you know in the community who are candy men, there for joyous revels and to delight the children.
- THE SNOW King & QUEEN from the celestial realm.
- THE POLAR BEAR! Sing to him and watch him dance.
- THE STAR CHILD who brings us the Sinterklaas Star each year.
- ALL THE KING’S HORSES the Hobby Horse Brigade.
- GRANDMOTHER EARTH on whom we all live. She’s the mother of us all, the Guiding Spirit of the Parade reminding us to take care of her.
- THE 4 SEASONS—the moods of Grandmother Earth. We especially honor Winter this time of year.
- THE ABBOTS BROMLEY HORN DANCE The most ancient Dance ever recorded. There are 12 characters representing a deer hunt. The pattern of the dance mimics the way in which a deer walks though the woods—in a figure 8 pattern—to the accompaniment of a haunting slip jig.
- The CAROUSEL A child’s Toy Box writ large!
- THE BLUE DOG Some things have no explanation!
- ST. GEORGE and the DRAGON A cosmic play of Good and Evil.
- HONORED ANIMALS from the Past: Fox • Horse.• The Crow • Goose •The Hummingbird • The Sturgeon • The Bee • The Elephant • The Turtle • The Owl • The Butterfly • The Bear • The Frog and the Mouse
- THE CHINESE LION. For good luck.
- THE PENGUINS. Visitors from the arctic.
- WILD WOMEN—If you have Wild Men (The Grumpuses) you have to have Wild Women and thanks to Abby Saxon we do have a fantastic gaggle!
- 1911 BAKER ELECTRIC CAR— Back to the future!
- MUSIC OF ALL TRADITIONS: Klezmer, Bagpipe, Dixieland, Irish, Didgeridoo, Balkan, Ukrainian, Mexican & Indonesian.
- THE TURTLE. On whose back the Earth was formed.
- CREATURES FROM THE FARM: The sheep, the cows, the llamas, the rams. They join their wild brothers.
- Chinelos. Whirling reminders of Mexico and its Holiday Traditions.
- THE POCKET LADY Our symbol of generosity
- THE FLOCK OF DOVES Guardians of the Peace Dove.
- THE PEACE DOVE Our wish for the world. The night ends with a wish for Peace in the world so that we will all live in community with each other, enjoying and celebrating our differences, hoping for Joy for All in this, our precious World.
The Illuminated Manuscript of Sinterklaas!
Magical and memorable, a cross between Harry Potter and an illuminated Medieval manuscript, this is a gift for our community. During the Festival in Rhinebeck the book is often displayed at the Beekman Arms.
Did you know that “cookie” is a Dutch word? And that the first chocolate in America came from Holland? Not only did children in New Amsterdam (NYC) love the Dutch tradition of Sinterklaas, they also quickly came to love another tradition the Dutch brought to the New World: cookies!! The Dutch word was “koekje,” and meant “little cake.” The Dutch brought the “koekjes” to America in the 17th century and the word became “cookie.” Much like Sinterklaas became Santa Claus. The first cookies were created by accident. Cooks used a small amount of cake batter to test their oven temperature before baking a large cake. Almost immediately the Dutch knew they had discovered something very, very good. With a little bit of sugar added, crackers became cookies! Before long, special cookies were being made for the Dutch’s favorite holiday—Sinterklaas. These cookies are called Speculaas.
The Cookie Tree
For the delight of all the children and in honor of this great cultural and culinary contribution of the Dutch, Jessica Bard, well-known local chef and the Creative Director of Culinary Affairs for Sinterklaas in Rhinebeck, makes a Cookie Tree that is often on display in the Beekman Arms throughout the holiday season.
Did you know that “cookie” is a Dutch word? Not only did the Dutch bring us cookies, but also the first chocolate in America came from Holland. The Dutch word was “koekje,” and meant “little cake” and koekje became “cookie” much like Sinterklaas became Santa Claus. Speculaas are cookies made especially for Sinterklaas.
The Dutch Bakery Sampler
After the great Parade of St. Nicholas, the Dutch family goes home and seats themselves at a table laden with all the traditional sweets and bakery goods known since the days when 17th Century painters gave us their version of the feast. Large chocolate initials serve as place settings along with the so-called “lovers,” tall, crisp, dark brown pastry rather like gingerbread. Look here for some recipes that Sinterklaas recommends!