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Experience the Magic of Sinterklaas in Dutchess

Date Published: November 3, 2023

Bundle up the kids in their coats and earmuffs and get ready for a magical event unlike any other — the annual Sinterklaas Festival is set for Dec. 2 in Rhinebeck! 

What is the Sinterklaas Festival, you ask? 

Why, it’s a sparkling, colorful celebration of children, a wondrous day filled with youthful jubilance and unfettered joy, a light of hope during the darkest time of year. The bustling streets are filled with music and cheer, laughter and innocence, as the entire community rallies around its smallest yet most precious treasures in accordance with an ancient tradition rooted in the Hudson Valley’s rich history as a Dutch colony.  

Sinterklaas Rhinebeck
Sinterklaas Festival, Rhinebeck (photo by Doug Baz courtesy of Jeanne Fleming)

The History of Sinterklaas

The traditional, centuries-old Dutch character Sinterklaas (the precursor to Santa Claus in North America) was based on the fourth-century bishop Nicholas Sinterklaas, also known as St. Nicholas, who is the patron saint of children, of unwed maidens, of sailors and of the Dutch capital of Amsterdam. The Sinterklaas character wears a red cape and a tall red bishop’s hat and rides through towns knocking on doors late at night. The Feast of St. Nicholas is still celebrated in Holland each year on Dec. 6 with the giving of gifts.  

The legend of Sinterklaas likely made its way to the Hudson Valley with the original Dutch explorers in the 1600s. In fact, the Dutch settlers dedicated their first church on Manhattan Island to Sinterklaas in 1642. The British took control of New Amsterdam in 1664, and over time, Sinterklaas merged with the British legend of Father Christmas. By the early 1800s, thanks in part to stories written by Washington Irving and Clement C. Moore, the character of Santa Claus began to emerge. To read the full story of Sinterklaas, click here.

Related: Top 10 Boutique Hotels and BnBs in Dutchess

Sinterklaas Rhinebeck
Sinterklaas Festival, Rhinebeck (photo by Doug Baz courtesy of Jeanne Fleming)

Sinterklaas 2023

The kids become royalty for a day at the Rhinebeck Sinterklaas celebration, and this year’s festivities will once again include plenty of engaging and educational children’s workshops, eye-popping circus stunts and thrilling performances of dance, theatre, magic and music all throughout the Village of Rhinebeck. Dancing Grumpuses, strolling musicians and a variety of other characters will be walking the streets and delighting the children with stories and treats. 

When you arrive, be sure to grab a program which has the events schedule, a map and tons of important information. There are dozens upon dozens of entertainers scheduled to perform at the festival, and the list keeps growing. Click here for updates. 

The day’s events culminate at dusk with the Children’s Starlight Parade, which features two-story-tall puppets carried by hundreds of volunteers and is led by Sinterklaas himself riding his trusty white steed. The parade marches into the center of the village and is followed by the Sinterklaas Pageant and the Illuminated Star Ceremony in honor of all the children — the kings and queens of the day. A portion of the proceeds from the star sales will be given to local food pantries. A special wish for peace brings the event to a close. To purchase your very own star for the Star Ceremony, click here.

Jeanne Fleming helped develop the modern incarnation of the Sinterklaas Festival in Rhinebeck more than 30 years ago, and through the diligence and dedication of countless people over the years, the event has become a tremendous source of community pride. The Rhinebeck Sinterklaas Festival was a finalist for the 2022 Dutchess Tourism Award of Distinction for Family Entertainment. To learn more, click here. 

Related: Dutchess Tourism Connection Finder

Sinterklaas Rhinebeck
Sinterklaas Festival, Rhinebeck (photo by Doug Baz courtesy of Jeanne Fleming)

Items of Note 

The honored animal for 2023 is the ant, and there will be a free Sinterklaas mask-coloring workshop at the Starr Library in Rhinebeck on Nov. 28 from 5 – 7 p.m.

There will also be crowns and branches workshops on Nov. 29 and 30 from 2:30 – 6 p.m. in the gym in the former Father Brogan Center and Good Shepherd Rectory

Parking can certainly be a bit of a challenge on Sinterklaas Day, as parking will be suspended along the parade route on Market Street after 2 p.m. With that in mind, the festival organizers will hold a raffle, with one lucky winner securing a premium parking spot all day and evening for the event. Click here for details on the raffle. For everyone else, parking will be available at Northern Dutchess Hospital (Lots E and F), at Rhinebeck High School, at the Highway Department and behind Starr Library. 

Sinterklaas photos by Doug Baz courtesy of Jeanne Fleming.

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