• 1 December 2017

Christmas is a magical time the world over, and one of the most interesting aspects of this holiday is that every country has its own particular traditions over the festive season. When you travel to Europe over the winter holidays, it’s always such a treat to immerse yourself in local customs and experience Christmastime from a brand new point of view.  In Holland, the Christmas festivities kick off a little bit earlier than in other parts of the world.  Here’s what you need to know about the customs and Christmas traditions in Holland…

AMSTERDAM: A festive affair with ice skating, concerts and Christmas markets!

The Netherlands’ festive folklore
The Dutch, in particular, go all out where holiday traditions are concerned – in fact, they not only give presents on Christmas Day, they have a whole separate celebration that already starts on the 5th of December! St. Nicholas Day falls on the 6th of December, and children put out shoes or traditional clogs on their windowsills on the eve of the 5th, which is called ‘Sinterklaasavond’, to be filled with gifts.

But actually, the holiday festivities start even earlier than that – Sinterklaas is said to make his way to mainland Holland on the second Saturday of November all the way from Madrid, Spain, where he lives with his sidekick, Zwarte Pieten, for the rest of the year. He travels by steamboat and brings along a white horse in lieu of the reindeer. Sinterklaas arrives at a different harbour town each year, and is met with great fanfare and lead through town to the sound of bells tolling so the congregated townsfolk can welcome him and join in the fun.

Sinterklaas and his helpers arriving in Leeuwarden last year. Sinterklaas arrives at a different harbour town each year.
Saint Nicholas (or Sinterklaas in Dutch) at the large St. Nicholas parade.
Saint Nicholas (or Sinterklaas in Dutch) at the large St. Nicholas parade.
Crowds lining the canal to see Sinterklaas arrive on December 5th.

Christmas Day itself is a is a little quieter in the Netherlands and normally involves a church service and family meal. Some children attend a special Sunday School event where they are told traditional stories and sing carols. However, this does not mean the gift-giving portion of the holidays is over just yet – on Christmas Eve, Kerstman (quite a different fellow from Sinterklaas) arrives from Lapland with more presents!

Holland’s holiday fare & Christmas carols
Festive feasts are part and parcel of all holiday celebrations, and the Netherlands are certainly no exception. If you visit Holland at this time of year you can look forward a delicious selection of festive treats, including the ubiquitous speculaas – a type spiced shortcrust biscuit that is synonymous with the St. Nicolas feast. Other festive staples include Kerststol, a sweet bread with dried fruit, koek-en-zopie, cakes and hooch served at ice rinks over the winter holidays, and of course, the traditional favourites like Stroopwafles, thin waffle with caramel syrup and Poffertjes, a tiny pancake baked in a cast iron pan.

Would you like to get an idea what Christmas in the Netherlands sounds like? You can listen to a wonderful selection of Dutch carols right here.

Delicious Dutch Christmas food! Speculaas (top left); Kerststol (top right); Stroopwafel (centre bottom); Typical Dutch Poffertjes (bottom right)

Experience Dutch holiday traditions with Expat Explore
At Expat Explore we have a marvellous selection of tours to Europe that include a foray to the Netherlands. Take a look, get inspired and enjoy a taste of Holland’s charming holiday traditions this winter!

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