Discover Amsterdam
Meetings and Conventions
Live, Work and Study
What's on
See and do
Travel and stay
City Card and tickets
Discover Amsterdam
Meetings and Conventions
Live, Work and Study
Image alt

Sinterklaas v Santa Claus: What's the difference?

They both work in the same sector, wear red, and have a big white beard. So what's the difference between Sinterklaas and Santa Claus? Read on for I amsterdam's spotter's guide to the two big men in red.

The Big Day

Aankomt van Sinterklaas op de stoomboot via de Amstel.
Image from Sinterklaas

Sinterklaas: Gift distribution happens 5 December, although Sint arrives amid great fanfare in mid-November before spending a couple of weeks parading around superciliously and tantalising children with candy. Close friends fear he’s senile.

Santa Claus: 24 December is the night Santa Claus goes from rooftop to rooftop, shoehorning himself down the chimney to deliver presents. Children wired on sugary treats, grandiose consumerist fantasies and sleep deprivation hope to catch a glimpse.

Sinterklaas. Look familiar?

Origins of the story

Sinterklaas: A man with serious credentials, Sint is thought to be the incarnation of Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of children, who has been revered since the Middle Ages. 

Santa Claus: A rag-tag character concocted from a mixed bag of Sinterklaas, Father Christmas and Saint Nicholas, the anglicised Santa Claus made his debut in the New World shortly after Dutch colonisation of the Americas. Coincidence?


Sinterklaas: Religious iconography is a major influence in skinny Sint’s winter wardrobe. This season, he’s mostly pairing his red, papal gown with a white bishop’s alb and a red mitre emblazoned with a cross. His golden crosier with curl detail is inspired by the pastoral staff carried by high-ranking Church prelates.

Santa Claus: Perpetually carrying a little holiday weight, Santa Claus dresses for comfort rather than style in a red two-piece with white trim and a thick black belt. Footwear-wise, he’s a big fan of the sturdy boot, and his bulging sack is rarely out of sight.


Sinterklaas: Sint charters a boat from Spain, then rides an elegant white-grey horse called Amerigo when on Dutch soil. Très chic, non?

Santa Claus: It takes a sleigh and nine flying reindeer (including red-nosed Rudolph) to get this dude off the ground.

Home life

Sinterklaas: A confirmed bachelor, this guy spends most of the year in Spain, where one thing’s for certain: he ain’t working on his tan.

Santa Claus: Santa’s workshop is in the North Pole, although pretty much every Nordic country seems to want to claim him as its own true son. There’s a Mrs. Claus back home and she’s great with reindeer.

Terms and conditions

Sinterklaas: Keeps track of who’s well behaved via a large book of children’s names, and deposits gifts in their shoes accordingly. Rumours persist of naughty children being snatched in their sleep, stuffed into sacks and ‘disappeared’ to Spain, although Sint’s publicist refuses to comment on specific cases.

Santa Claus: A bit of a soft touch by comparison, Santa would rather give you the benefit of the doubt and leave you a little something under the tree. In any case, the use of fossil fuels is increasingly frowned upon and coal is in short supply.


Sinterklaas: An ascetic, Karl Lagerfeld type with endless reserves of self-control, Sinterklaas delivers a tonne of candy, but never seems to indulge.

Santa Claus: Cookies, milk, whiskey and mince pies, and all laid on by the fanbase! The diet can start tomorrow.