Sinterklaas, as we call him in New York

Published 9:35 am Thursday, December 3, 2009

In a small upstate New York town a handful of families are preparing for the Feast of Sinterklaas.

If you have met me before or read my name in the newspaper, there’s a good chance you’ve come to the conclusion I’m not from around here and my last name is a dead give away. VanDerBroek doesn’t exactly camouflage well in the Roanoke-Chowan population of Harrells, Jenkins, Farmers and Deloatchs.

The unique aspect of small communities is that our surnames reflect history and, more importantly, heritage. While the English had an obvious influence here in northeast North Carolina, it was the Dutch who had influence in that small town back in upstate New York. And there VanDerBroek is good old common Dutch name along with the Dehonds, DeMays, DeLysers, VanDusens and VanLares.

Within that small Dutch-American community a few families still carry on the tradition of celebrating Sinterklaas on December 6, Saint Nicholas Day.

Sinterklaas is the holiday figure associated with the celebration in the Netherlands. The holiday has children placing empty shoes at a door or near a fireplace and then going to bed the evening of December 5 with the anticipation of finding gifts from Sinterklaas the next morning.

Sinterklaas dresses in a red cape, a white bishop’s dress and holds a book in which the names of children are listed with notes of whether they have been naughty or nice. His mode of transportation to each house he visits is a white horse. And how does a horse get across waterways? Well, Sinterklaas has his very own steamboat.

It all sounds familiar, right?

Here, in the United States the idea of Sinterklaas was molded into the more prevalent Santa Claus, who comes on Christmas Eve.

Of course, Sinterklaas had his own idea he originated from—St. Nicolas—the patron saint of children, a nod to the Netherlands’ Catholic past.

As for the gifts the children receive from Sinterklaas, they typically are fruit (mandarin oranges are common) and candy. If a child is bad they get “roe,” a bundle of sticks in their shoe or salt.

All in all, when the last present is discovered the family comes together for a feast.

While the idea of Sinterklaas is universal, the gathering of families for the holidays, no matter your heritage, is just as commonplace and important.

Amanda VanDerBroek is a staff writer for the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald. For comments and column suggestions email: or call (252) 332-7209.