Well, let us try to explain who the 3 Saints are, what are their differences and what’s the connection. For example, Saint Nicolas and Santa Claus have a white beard, but it is not clear whether Sint Maarten had a beard at all.
To start with Santa Claus is a figure that has been shaped by folklore and cultural traditions. Sinterklaas and St. Martin were real historical figures, their lives and actions influenced the development of festive traditions.
The differences between the 3 Saints in a nutshell
Saint Martin, no beard, just a horse. Saint Nicolas (Sinterklaas) tall white beard and a white horse. Santa, white beard, rides a reindeer named Rudolf.
Saint Martin, or Saint Martin of Tours, was a 4th-century Christian saint and Bishop of Tours. He is known for his acts of charity and is a symbol of generosity. Saint Martin’s Day is celebrated in some countries, particularly in Europe.
Saint Nicholas, also known as Nikolaos of Myra, was a Christian bishop who lived in the 4th century in what is now Turkey. He was known for his generosity and kindness, especially towards children. Over time, stories of his deeds and miracles contributed to the development of the figure of Santa Claus.
Santa Claus is a figure that has evolved from various cultural and historical influences. The modern image of Santa Claus, with his red suit, white beard, and association with Christmas, is largely based on the 1823 poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas”. Commonly known as “The Night Before Christmas”. The character has also been influenced by the Dutch figure Sinterklaas, who, in turn, has connections to the historical figure Saint Nicholas.
Saint Maarten, Sint Maarten, 11 November
Saint Martin of Tours, commonly known as Sint Maarten in Dutch, was a Roman soldier who lived in the 4th century AD. He is best known for a famous act of kindness that has become the basis for the celebration of St. Martin’s Day.
The most well-known story about St. Martin recounts how, as a young Roman soldier, he encountered a beggar on a cold winter’s day. Seeing the beggar shivering from the cold, Martin cut his military cloak in half and shared it with the poor man. That night, Martin dreamed of Jesus wearing the half-cloak, affirming the charitable act.
Later in life, Martin became a Christian and eventually a bishop. His reputation for generosity and compassion spread, and he is now venerated as a saint in the Catholic Church. St. Martin’s feast day is celebrated on November 11th.
Tradition colorful lanterns and sweets on Saint Martin’s Eve
In many European countries, including the Netherlands and Belgium, St. Martin’s Day is observed with various customs and traditions. One of the most widespread traditions is the lantern procession. Children create colorful lanterns, often shaped like stars, animals, or other figures, and then participate in a parade through the streets. The procession is accompanied by singing traditional St. Martin’s songs.
Another common tradition associated with St. Martin’s Day is the sharing of sweets, particularly in the form of “Sint-Maarten snoep” (St. Martin’s candy) or “Sint-Maartenkoeken” (St. Martin’s cookies).
The specific customs and celebrations vary from region to region. Saint Martin’s Day is generally a time for community, kindness, and sharing. It’s all about the spirit of generosity associated with the historical figure of Saint Martin. Sint Maarten is a truly traditional folk festival. Saint Martin is the patron saint of the city of Utrecht.
➔ Sint Maarten – Saint Maarten – Sint Maartensday – 11 November
➔ Saint Maarten, a very popular Saint in the Netherlands
Saint Nicolas, Sinterklaas, 5 December
Sinterklaas, also known as Saint Nicholas, is a traditional figure, originally a Christian and European folklore. The character is based on Saint Nicholas, a Christian bishop who lived in the fourth century in the area that is now modern-day Turkey. The legend of Saint Nicholas tells of his generosity and kindness, particularly toward children and the less fortunate.
Over time, the stories of Saint Nicholas evolved, his feast day is celebrated on December 6th, it became a time for gift-giving and charity. In the Netherlands and Belgium, the celebration of Sinterklaas is a significant cultural event.
Sinterklaas is often depicted as a tall, stately figure with a long white beard, dressed in a red bishop’s robe and miter. He is said to arrive in the Netherlands by steamship from Spain in mid-November, and his arrival is a festive event marked by parades and celebrations.
Tradition gifts and treats on Saint Nicolas Eve
On the evening of December 5th, known as Sinterklaasavond or pakjesavond, children place their shoes by the fireplace, hoping that Sinterklaas will fill them with small gifts and treats. Sinterklaas is accompanied by his helpers, known as “Zwarte Pieten” or Black Peters, who assist him in distributing gifts and candies.
In recent years, the character of Zwarte Piet has become the subject of debate and controversy due to concerns about racial stereotypes. Efforts have been made to update the character’s portrayal to be more culturally sensitive.
Overall, Sinterklaas is a beloved figure in Dutch and Belgian traditions, and his celebration is a time for family, gift-giving, and festive gatherings.
➔ Sinterklaas, December 5th Birthday Feast
Santa Claus, Kerstman, 25 December
The figure of Santa Claus has its origins in various cultural and historical traditions. The current Santa Claus is a merger of different influences from the Netherlands, Germany, and England. Colonists brought their Christmas celebrations to America. From the Netherlands St Nicolas, from Germany Kris Kringle, and Father Christmas from England. The modern Santa Claus as we know it today emerged in America in the 19th century as a friendly, portly man with a white beard, red clothes, and a sleigh pulled by reindeer. So Santa Claus is an amalgamation of different traditions and folklore, he is a symbol of generosity and joy.
Tradition gifts on Christmas Eve
Santa Claus also comes to the Netherlands. Traditionally, Sinterklaas brings the presents, but Santa Claus also starts to deliver presents during the Christmas period. Shops and towns decorate themselves in the Christmas spirit from mid-November, many people put up a Christmas tree, decorate their houses, and exchange presents on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. In many families, it is customary to get together on Christmas Eve for a festive dinner and to exchange gifts. Sinterklaas is the most popular gift-giver but Santa Claus is also increasingly welcomed as a figure who contributes to the joy and fun of the Christmas season.
➔ Christmas – The most beautiful ancient Neapolitan nativity scene in the Netherlands
➔ Winter and Christmas Fairs