He was the fourth-century patron saint of sailors and children – talkin’ about Sinterklaas here – and was brought to the Hudson Valley over 300 years ago by the original Dutch immigrants who populated the area before the Brits took over. As far as traditions go, this twist on a celebration originating in the Netherlands has taken hold. And every year, after a period of celebratory preparation in the Rondout, Sinterklaas is put onto a boat and departs. According to legend, he’s leaving “Spain” to arrive in “Holland,” where he is lauded by children and adults alike. In actuality, he lands in Rhinebeck, where more frivolities ensue the following weekend.
Organizers say that “it takes a village” to produce the annual event. Workshops for children’s activities and fundraisers that make the whole Sinterklaas scene feasible ramp up in mid-November. Sponsors, local businesses, volunteers and a bevy of entertainers are enrolled and lined up for action. It’s a huge celebration where children are transformed into Kings and Queens and honored as the bringers of the light at the darkest time of year, and it takes some doing.
The tradition of Sinterklaas is recreated through the lens of modern-day America as a non-denominational, non-commercial, all-inclusive event. Parades and performances are geared for the young, the old, the in-between: anyone who wants to be part of a community of hope for a joyous and peaceful world. The character of Sinterklaas (a/k/a St. Nicholas, Santa Claus and Father Christmas) dresses up in a bishop’s mitre, red cape, shiny ring and jeweled staff and rides a white steed through town.
The story goes that he knocked on doors late at night to deliver goodies to good children. He was accompanied by the Grumpus –a wild-looking half-man, half-beast – who would threaten “less good” ones by rattling heavy chains. Kids aren’t unduly frightened in the Hudson Valley version, however. The focus is clearly joy, peace and light. And by the time Sinterklaas arrives in Rhinebeck on Saturday, December 3, the merriment hits its peak.
Meanwhile, Kingston is getting ready. In fact, according to co-chair Nancy Donskoj, preparations have been underway since last summer, when new props were made. “This year we’re expanding into Midtown,” she says. “Our goal has always been to make it a city-wide event, to reach out into more of the community.”
This Friday and Saturday hold activities to kick things off properly. “Wreaths, Sweets and Dutch Treats” is a cocktail reception and silent-auction fundraiser that will take place at the Old Dutch Church in Uptown Kingston on Friday, November 18 from 5:30 to 9 p.m. Come do your holiday shopping from a selection of artist-made holiday wreaths, unique gift items and gift certificates to fabulous local businesses, all while enjoying musical entertainment, delicious holiday food, beer, wine and signature cocktails with a Dutch theme. Tickets cost $30 in advance, $40 at the door.
Kids of all ages get to create their own costumes for the festivities at Crowns and Branches Workshops. With adult accompaniment, children can participate for free (donations are always welcome!) in any one of three workshops: Saturday, November 19 from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Kingston Library on Franklin Street; and Friday, November 25 (same time slot) and Saturday, November 26 from 12 noon to 3 p.m. at the Rondout Neighborhood Center, located at 105 Broadway at the corner of Spring Street.
The big day, Saturday, November 26, begins at the Kingston Library at 10:30 a.m. with special storytelling presented by Sam Osterhout. Hear how the ghosts of Henry Hudson and the Spirit of the Hudson River come alive for Sinterklaas’ arrival in the Hudson Valley. The Parrots for Peace will be on hand to engage the audience with their message of peace and sustainability. At the newly erected Spiegeltent at Broadway Commons, there will be a celebration of our Mexican American heritage with holiday ponche, a mariachi band and beehive piñata.
All day long, many of the Rondout businesses will open their doors for storytelling, face-painting, workshops in cookie-decorating, owl mask coloring and ornament-making for the kids. For the adults, there will wine and glogg tastings and live music at Dermot Mahoney’s Irish Pub with the Sonic Soul Band and McGrovin’. At the Arts Society of Kingston, dance lessons will be conducted by Got2Lindy and Homespun Occasions. The Trolley Museum of New York will run its trolley from 12 noon to 4 p.m.
And at T. R. Gallo Park, magical owl sculptures created by the Kingston High School Crafts Club will be on display, and a giant beehive will be placed in the Gazebo, where children can enter and hear “Secrets of the Hive.” Sky Hunters in Flight will have an educational program with live owls and other birds of prey.
Sinterklaas departs from the historic Kingston Waterfront (a/k/a “Spain”) after a 4 p.m. Children’s Maritime Parade down Broadway, with handcrafted stars and puppets galore. “We’re calling it a procession because we want people to escort Sinterklaas down to his boat,” says Donskoj. Kingston sends off the jolly old man and his white horse on a tugboat that crosses the river to his destination there. After his sendoff, there will be a Mathilda Tugboat-Lighting Ceremony at the Hudson River Maritime Museum, a Sinterklaas Soirée and Hootenanny at Mariner’s Harbor, featuring the Gold Hope Duo, and plenty of specials at all of the local restaurants.
Check out a complete schedule and details of all events at www.sinterklaashudsonvalley.com. And if you happen to be on the Dutchess County side of the river on Sunday, November 20, don’t miss the seventh annual Sinterklaas Craft Fair featuring 25 high-quality craft artists, who will be selling their wares from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Rhinebeck Town Hall on Market Street. All the proceeds go to support the Sinterklaas festivities, and a list of participating artisans can be found on Facebook at www.facebook.com/events/639896176184499. For more information or to make a contribution or volunteer for the Sinterklaas events, call (845) 514-3998 or visit www.sinterklaashudsonvalley.com.