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Dutch Town To Santa: Get Lost

November 11, 1994 GMT

ASSEN, Netherlands (AP) _ No milk and cookies await Santa Claus in this northern Dutch city.

″Santa Claus, beat it on your sleigh. Back to your house, in the U.S. of A,″ sings a country band, The Amazing Sugar Waffles.

Signs bearing prohibitive red slashes over images of Christmas trees and reindeers appear on streets leading into Assen, warning against any Santa Claus shenanigans until after the traditional celebration of Sinterklaas on Dec. 5.

″Christmas comes earlier and earlier each year,″ Marjolein Kerklaan, member of the Assen Sinterklaas Committee, said Thursday. ″We are concerned that our Dutch tradition is being lost.″

Christmas and Sinterklaas offer different visions of St. Nicholas. Sinterklaas celebrates his legendary arrival in the Netherlands after an arduous boat trip from Turkey in the Middle Ages.

What started as a religious festival became a popular family celebration in the 18th century.

Each year St. Nicholas, togged in his bishop’s red mantle and white miter, arrives by boat in Dutch cities and towns, escorted by Moorish servants, all named ″Black Pete.″

Children are told he’ll drop gifts down their chimneys if they’ve behaved well that year.

The same St. Nicholas that the Dutch revere is believed to have evolved into the reindeer-driving Santa Claus.

But that does nothing to endear him to Sinterklaas fans.

″Santa Claus is becoming too popular and it is the Americanization of our society that people are afraid of,″ said Wim Kunst of the Drents Groningse Pers, the local paper.

A recent newspaper poll found nine out of 10 respondents saying they prefer Sinterklaas to Santa Claus.