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Dutch December Holidays

Commons-c-Bernardo-Contopoulos

By Correspondent Susanne in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

December is that special month of the year where many countries celebrate their version of Christmas. People spend more time on creating the perfect holiday food, decorate their houses and put more thought into choosing festive outfits. Christmas celebrations share quite some similarities across different countries, but today I would like to share with you how we, the Dutch, celebrate Christmas in the Netherlands.

Actually, we celebrate two different versions of Christmas. First we celebrate ‘Sinterklaas’ at the beginning of December, and then we celebrate the better-known version of Christmas at the end of December. Usually families choose between celebrating Sinterklaas and Christmas, where families with younger children mostly celebrate Sinterklaas.

Just like any other holiday, Sinterklaas comes with many traditions. It all starts off in November with Sinterklaas arriving to the Netherlands by steamboat, apparently all the way from Spain. He is accompanied by many Zwarte Pieten (literally, Black Pete’s), who help him with all the festive activities. This year there were quite some protests as many people believe that this is racism, while the traditional story says that the Zwarte Pieten actually turned black from through the chimney when delivering gifts to the children.

We continue to celebrate by singing traditional songs, giving small gifts to children and by eating many gingerbread-like treats. On the 5th of December it’s the big Sinterklaas celebration day. In the evening most families get together to enjoy dinner. After this, Sinterklaas (usually the neighbors…) knocks on the front door. The children will find a big bag filled with gifts surrounded by candy and gingerbread-like treats. The evening, and Sinterklaas celebrations in general, ends with unwrapping the gifts. Some families with older children also celebrate Sinterklaas, but then its more common to celebrate with something like ‘Secret Santa’ where everybody buys gifts and writes a poem for a randomly assigned family member.

Most families with older children however decide to only celebrate Christmas. It’s actually quite similar to Christmas in other countries. We have the Christmas tree, the decorations, the lights, and the red, white and green colors everywhere. We celebrate from the evening of the 24th until the 26th and do this mostly by spending time with close family and giving gifts. We do not really have traditions when it comes to food, but many families do something called ‘gourmetten’. You have a table grill in the middle of the table and everybody gets to cook his own pieces of meat, vegetables, potatoes, etc. This is a lot of fun because you get to prepare your own food and choose whatever you like, but it’s also informal and fills up the evening time-wise. The main event is still, like all over the world, the unwrapping of the gifts that have gathered under the decorated Christmas tree.

Let me know if you have any questions about our Dutch holiday traditions!

Merry Christmas!


Susanne Susanne
I am Susanne, a 24 year old from the Netherlands. I have studied social psychology and have a passion for food. I have lived abroad, and what I loved most about this was learning about new countries, cultures, traditions and people. I would love to share my insights into this, and most of all show you what life in the Netherlands is like.

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