Sinterklaas brings Dutch tradition and Christmas celebrations to Rhinebeck
Sinterklaas. Photo courtesy of Dutchess Tourism
Immerse yourself in the culture of Rhinebeck’s Sinterklaas, a traditional Dutch Christmas festival and celebration with live music, parades and more.
In 1985, following the move of the beloved Rhinebeck Craft Fair from the Dutchess County Fairgrounds to Massachusetts, a group of residents met to discuss a new event for the village. Rhinebeck resident Jeanne Fleming, whose event experience includes a long stint as director of New York’s Village Halloween Parade and the Statue of Liberty’s centenary, seemed like the perfect person to lead the initiative.
She gathered around 100 people of all ages “from children to the elderly”, businesses, churches and government officials and asked them what type of event they wanted to see.
After many ballots, Fleming was surprised: âPeople wanted an event during the holidays,â she said, âfor children and based on their Dutch heritage. But about what? She eventually discovered the story of Sinterklaas, a Dutch Christmas tradition that celebrates children.
Its Dutch roots go back to the late 1600s, with the purchase of 2,200 acres of land from the indigenous Sepasco and Esopus by a small group of Dutch traders. And with the Dutch came Sinterklaas. The first ‘Old Dutch Christmas in Rhinebeck’ was a first hit, but took a hiatus in the 1990s. Years later Fleming and the festival came back in force. And since then it has become extremely popular and appreciated.
Fleming altered aspects of the medieval celebration, removing all reference to the punishment of wicked children and transforming the character of Zwarte Piet – traditionally performed by a blackface actor – in the nice, the cuddly, Grumpus.
Fleming organized what was then called An Old Dutch Christmas in Rhinebeck for eight years, but a lack of funds and his young son’s cancer diagnosis ultimately made it unfeasible. And in fact, his son was instrumental in the festival’s return in 2008 as Sinterklaas: âI always wanted him to see him,â says Fleming, who notes that his son no longer has cancer. since 2011.
But bringing him back came with some reservations: the support of local merchants, the awareness of non-Christian communities and the full participation of the village of Rhinebeck.
Fleming sees it as a testament not only to the season, but to the whole community: âEvery local group, every church is involved. More than anything, however, it is about the children. âWe come together,â she says, âand celebrate all of our children together. “
This year’s celebration takes place on December 4. Many of Rhinebeck’s most notable small businesses, shops and arts destinations are having fun. Upstate Films screens holiday movies as marching bands serenade the city. The full-day event ends with the Starlight Parade at 6 p.m.
Related: Where To See The Hudson Valley’s Brightest Holiday Lights