You don't have to travel to the North Pole to find holiday magic. In fact, you don't even have to leave the Hudson Valley.
During the annual multiday festival of Sinterklaas, which kicked off Saturday and culminates on Dec. 1, the city of Kingston, the hamlet of Rhinecliff and the village of Rhinebeck will be transformed into dreamlike winter wonderlands. In this historic re-creation of a holiday ritual brought here by Dutch settlers more than 300 years ago, children are honored as kings and queens, a kindly saint in a red robe brings goodies for those who have behaved and a beast called Grumpus scares the bad behavior out of those who've been naughty.
According to legend, Sinterklaas, the patron saint of children, unwed maidens and sailors, made his benevolent journey from Spain to Holland to bring light to the darkest time of year. In the first leg of the modern-day festival, the role of Spain was played by Kingston's Rondout district on Nov. 24.
Sinterklaas will culminate with Festival Day in Rhinebeck on Saturday, Dec. 1. The entertainment lineup is extensive, with puppet shows, fire juggling, storytelling, magic, music and even circus acts playing at multiple locations around town from around 10:30 a.m. until 11 p.m. The grand finale is the Children's Starlight Parade, an impressive spectacle of costumed characters and ritual dances, which begins at 6 p.m. on West Market Street. The parade will proceed to the Community Circle in the municipal lot, where even more entertainment awaits.
The parade is quite moving, event designer and producer Jeanne Fleming said. The ritual is meant to reverse roles and transform the smallest and least powerful among us -- the children -- into the tallest and most powerful ones for just one night. They wear crowns they make themselves and carry branches as scepters. The adult spectators light the way with 15-inch paper stars illuminated with light-emitting diodes.
"They glow a beautiful kind of bluish white," Fleming said. "There are 1,500 or even 2,000 of them. It's really beautiful. The parents bring their stars, and all the adults bow down to the children, so all the kids are the tallest people in town. And they look out and they're in a sea of stars."
Perhaps the most magical thing about the festival is the price for visitors. "All free," Fleming said.
FEATURED SINTERKLAAS EVENTS
A complete schedule of events and activities is available on the Sinterklaas website (www.sinterklaasrhinebeck.com), but here are some don't-miss moments and first-timer tips.
• Crowns and branches workshops: Materials will be provided for little kings and queens to make their own crowns and branches to wear proudly in the processions. "We have forms in the shape of crowns and fabulous materials and jewels. They will absolutely flip when they see what we have this year," Fleming said.
• Workshops take place 2 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 29 at the Sinterklaas Workshop at 20 W. Market St.
• Sparkling stars for sale: Each year the event producers create an original design and have unique Sinterklaas stars made in India. Purchase the stars at Karmabee (73 Broadway, Kingston), winter Sun and Summer Moon (10-14 E. Market St., Rhinebeck) or at the Ask Me Ladies table in front of the Beekman Arms (6387 Mill St., Rhinebeck).
• Children's Starlight Parade and Community Circle: The parade begins on West Market Street at 6 p.m. and proceeds through the village to the municipal lot, where music and dance performances continue until midnight.