Sinterklaas in Rhinebeck

by jptanabe

Sinterklaas, also known as Saint Nicholas, is a traditional winter holiday figure in the Netherlands. Sinterklaas comes to Rhinebeck, NY by boat every year!

The Sinterklaas festival is held every year in Rhinebeck, a small town on the Hudson River in New York State. The tradition of Sinterklaas comes all the way from the Netherlands, brought by Dutch settlers who arrived in Rhinebeck over 300 years ago.

The revived tradition in Rhinebeck is inclusive - every one is invited to participate! The young, the old, the in between, Christians, Jews, nature lovers, Native Americans, Mexicans, and just anyone who wants to be part of a community of hope for a joyous and peaceful world are all welcome to participate and have fun.

Image of Sinterklaas on a boat from Wikimedia Commons.

Who is Sinterklaas?

Sinterklaas, also known as Saint Nicholas, is a traditional winter holiday figure in the Netherlands. Yes, he's related to Santa Claus!

The real Saint Nicholas (280-342) was a bishop of Myra in present-day Turkey. The Sinterklaas feast is celebrated every year on Saint Nicholas' eve (December 5), December 6 being the name day of Saint Nicholas, patron saint of children and sailors.

Statue of Sinterklaas
Statue of Sinterklaas

Get your own Sinterklaas on his white horse

He's really rather cute!
Sinterklaas on Horse
Sinterklaas on Horse

Sinterklaas in the Netherlands

The celebration that developed in the Netherlands involves a town resident dressed up as Sinterklaas (wearing a bishop's hat, red cape, bishop's ring and jeweled staff). He is accompanied by Sinterklaas' long-time sidekick, the Grumpus (also known as "Zwarte Piet' or Black Peter), a wild looking character who walks through the town carrying a big black bag. In some versions he puts the naughtiest children in the bag; in other versions the bag holds switches to spank the bad children and candy for the good ones.

Sinterklaas in Amsterdam
Sinterklaas in Amsterdam
Sinterklaas in Amsterdam
Sinterklaas arriving by boat
Sinterklaas arriving by boat
Sinterklaas arriving by boat

Sinterklaas arrives by boat

Sinterklaas traditionally arrives each year by boat in November. The boat is believed to be how Saint Nicholas traveled to the Netherlands from Spain.

Every year a ship carrying Sinterklaas arrives by boat from Spain to Amsterdam, which holds a special connection to Sinterklaas. There a whole group of Grumpuses join him on his parade as he rides his white horse through the streets of the city.


Sinterklaas welcomed by the mayor
Sinterklaas welcomed by the mayor at city hall in front of a crowd
Sinterklaas welcomed by the mayor at ...

He is welcomed by the whole town

Sinterklaas is welcomed by the whole town. His arrival is marked by celebrations, with singing and dancing, as he parades through the streets on a white horse, giving out candy to the children.

When he reaches the center of the town, he is welcomed by the mayor. Festivities usually take place to mark the occasion!

Why does Sinterklaas come to Rhinebeck?

So, if Sinterklaas was a Turkish bishop whose name day became a festival in the Netherlands, what is he doing in Rhinebeck, a small town on the Hudson River in New York State!

Well, the answer is that Rhinebeck has a rich heritage of Old Dutch customs brought over from Europe by the early settlers. The Dutch people who arrived in Rhinebeck over 300 years ago brought the Sinterklaas tradition with them.

Rhinebeck decorated for Christmas
Rhinebeck decorated for Christmas

The Sinterklaas Celebration in Rhinebeck

Today in Rhinebeck the myth of Sinterklaas is rewritten for modern times. A major feature of the parade, and a great favorite with the children, is the inclusion of so many puppets. The contemporary Rhinebeck celebration revives the underlying beliefs of goodness and a good person who brings light and happiness especially to children and innocent creatures. The hope is that as the community unites in preparing for and participating in this celebration, they experience a spirit of unity, of community, and hope for a world of peace and harmony - the true spirit of Christmas really!

Sinterklaas in Rhinebeck, 2016

Sinterklaas comes from Kingston!

The original Sinterklaas came to Holland from Spain. Now Sinterklaas travels to Rhinebeck from Kingston, on the other side of the Hudson River! After much celebration and parading through the streets, he embarks on his boat journey across the river and arrives at the Rhinecliff dock. 

The Procession then makes its way from the Rhinecliff Dock to the Center of Rhinecliff ending at The Rhinecliff Hotel where a wonderful reception, including a performance of St. George and the Dragon and other entertainment and festivities, is held.

Typically held in Kingston on the last Saturday in November, is a day of open houses, workshops, musical performances, and a parade to escort Sinterklaas to the waterfront where he embarks on his journey across the Hudson River. 

The main Festival Day takes place a week later in Rhinebeck, this year on Saturday, December 3rd. There will be festivities all day, and then, beginning at 6pm, the Sinterklaas parade begins. Puppeteers arrive at the Starr Library at 5 pm to be assigned their puppets. Anyone can participate! 

The parade is very special. It is a recreation of the Dutch parades with Sinterklaas on his White Horse, the Grumpuses (crazy sidekicks who carry out Sinterklaas' judgment on the children, either switches for the bad or candies for the good), the Wild Women, Dancing Bears, Grandmother Earth, the Seven Sisters (Stars from the cosmos that look down on us from afar and allow us to look up and dream), Giants, Snow Geese, and more! When the parade reaches the Municipal Parking Lot the stage is filled with celebratory dances by many of these characters, music, The Abbots Bromley Horn Dance performed by the Pokingbrook Morris Dancers, and much more. The conclusion is the appearance of the Peace Dove - a wish for Peace in a world of harmony where we all live in community with each other, enjoying and celebrating our differences.

Sinterklaas Grumpus Dance 2012

Photos of Sinterklaas in Rhinebeck

For more information and photos: Sinterklaas website

Updated: 12/02/2022, jptanabe
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jptanabe on 09/05/2015

Thanks! It's a really cool event.

jptanabe on 09/05/2015

Yes, it's really great to be able to share these traditions.

Mira on 09/05/2015

I really enjoyed this:). Had never heard of this Dutch or NY tradition!

blackspanielgallery on 09/04/2015

It is amazing how different cultures celebrate.

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