Sinter.. who? Santa Claus? Are Sinterklaas and Santa Claus the same characters? Yes and no. There are different explanations and beliefs.
Yes; Sinterklaas is Santa Claus
Many people say that historically Sinterklaas and Santa Claus are the same persons. When the Dutch came to America at the beginning of the 17th century, they brought their Dutch Sinterklaas tradition. The English speaking environment said Santa Claus. Both Sinterklaas and Santa Claus have the same purpose; to cheer up children by bringing them presents. Both do this a bit awkwardly; through the chimney.
No; Sinterklaas and Santa Claus are different characters
Sinterklaas, who was actually called Nicolas from Myra, was a bishop in Turkey. As legend has it, he helped three girls from a poor family to obtain the dowry they needed to get married. If he would not have done so the girls would have to become prostitutes. There are also other hero stories about Nicolas; about how he saved three boys from death. Nicolas was appointed sacred.
His deeds made him famous and people wanted to remember him. In many countries special celebrations were organized, mainly with a religious background. Most of the Netherlands became Protestant in the 16th century. The new leaders did not approve of Catholic habits but people wanted to keep on celebrating Sinterklaas. The religious character of the festivities changed into a more public one.
Sinterklaas comes the Netherlands by steamship, each year around November 15th. Children will go the harbour of the city where they live and if there is no harbour he will arrive by train, car or carriage. Sinterklaas will step on ‘his’ white horse (with the name Amerigo) and will drive a tour through the city. After this entrance parade children will place their shoe near the chimney two or three times per week up to December 5th and will get small presents in their shoes from Sinterklaas. His birthday party is celebrated both at school and at home (most of the times together with family) on December 5th. The presents have personalized poems on them and/or are creatively disguised. Immediately after the party, Sinterkaas will go home again. Why ‘home’ is in Spain/Madrid nowadays no one knows…
Another explanation for Santa Claus is that he was probably derivated from Father Christmas, a pagan character that has already existed a long time. Father Christmas visited the houses where he got something to eat and drink. This would help the farmers to get a good harvest in the coming year.
Santa Claus comes to town in the month December and will give Christmas presents. He lives on the Northpole and rides a slay with raindeers.
‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight—
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”
(by Clement Clark Moore, full poem on poetryfoundation)