DUBAI // Scores of delighted youngsters crowded the dock at Dubai Festival Marina's yesterday to welcome Sinterklaas, the Dutch Santa Claus, ahead of next month's festivities.
Dutch families cheered and waved flags as they caught a glimpse of the man traditionally known as the patron saint of children and sailors arrived by boat with his many helpers, including Zwarte Pieten (Black Pete).
The Sinterklaas tradition originates from The Netherlands. Although it is marked in other European countries such as Belgium, and is celebrated with a feast on December 5 or 6.
"Sinterklaas is a legend who comes by boat from Spain and docks in the harbour to see the little children," said Michelle Meuleman, a French citizen who has lived in Dubai for more than 30 years with her Dutch husband.
"He receives letters with requests and finds out if children have been obedient, but he always gives them a small gift. The children in turn sing traditional Sinterklaas songs for him."
The Dutch community in the UAE has celebrated the festive occasion for more than 25 years, with Sinterklaas once arriving at one of the five star hotels in Dubai Creek.
Dutch residents who had moved to Dubai only recently were glad to be marking the tradition for the first time with their families and to take pictures of their children with Sinterklaas. Sitting in his chair and resembling Santa Claus with his white beard and red robe, Sinterklaas told the children a few of his favourite songs, which they began to sing.
As Zwarte Pieten threw "Pepernoten", biscuit-style treats, into the crowd, many residents also took the opportunity to buy traditional sweets such as Melk chocolate and Schuimpjes, a Dutch version of meringues.
"They organised a very big delivery of sweets from The Netherlands and some people even ordered in advance so they can pick it up today," said Titia De Vries, a visitor from The Netherlands who was lending a hand at the sweet stand.
Roland de Jonge, who has lived in Dubai for three years, said his four-year-old daughter Maya and his two-year-old son Noah would be following tradition by putting their shoes next to the door or window, hoping to receive a present.
"It is about tradition and it is nice that on this day all the family gets together for the children to celebrate," said Reina Pool, 77, who travelled from The Netherlands to visit her daughter's family.