A boat instead of a sleigh: the real story of Santa Claus

Discovering the real story of Santa Claus, on board a boat

Christmas is around the corner and like always, accompanying this celebration is Santa Claus. We all know the story of this magical person and continue to celebrate it. According to tradition, on Christmas Eve, Saint Nicholas brings gifts to everyone with his sleigh pulled by his eight reindeer.

However, you might not know the real story behind the much beloved figure of Santa Claus. Forget sleighs and chimneys: in many other countries, especially in Holland, it is believed that Santa Claus brings his gifts using a boat.

On 6 December, which is also St. Nicholas Day, it is common to see, near the port of Amsterdam, a large ceremony with the participation of a number of children to welcome the Dutch Santa Claus, or if you prefer, Sinterklaas. According to the tradition of Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg, Sinterklaas has the same Christmassy look, but instead of his iconic sleigh, he prefers to travel using a majestic steamboat.

It is said that this Santa Claus lives in Spain and, on the first Saturday in November, he leaves on his boat for the Netherlands, accompanied by his faithful servant,  Zwarte Pete and his elves.


In a number of European countries, Santa Claus is celebrated on 6 December. As we have learned this is Saint Nicholas Day. This bishop was so famous that over time he became an icon for children, but not just for them.

Dutch tradition explains another “marine” detail about the life of Saint Nicholas. According to historiography, the saint, during a long pilgrimage by sea to the Holy Land, met with a violent storm putting at risk the entire ship and crew. His prayers immediately calmed the ocean, ensuring the safety of everyone on board. Thanks to this episode, the bishop also earned himself the title of protector of sailors.

This explains some of the origin of the Dutch tradition where our beloved Santa Claus is depicted on board a very festive boat. Who knows if the boat is named Rudolph, after the famous reindeer?


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