Christmas Day is celebrated in the Netherlands on December 25th. Celebrations for the festival begin on the last Saturday of November. Prior to Christmas Day, many people decorate their homes and gardens with Christmas trees. In the Netherlands the Christmas tree is called the paradise tree. One can buy artificial trees or real pine trees. Some people build wooden Christmas pyramids and decorate them with evergreens and candles. Celebrants of Christmas decorate the trees with small electric lights and other items of adornment such as glass baubles, bells and stars. Many also visit local markets to shop for Christmas decorations, music, snacks and gifts.
December 25th is a holiday in the Netherlands. Many people attend church services on this day and spend the rest of the day quietly in the company of family or close friends. Public life during Christmas is in fact, a quite one in Netherlands. Exuberant celebrations are rarely to be witnessed during the festival. Majority of the shops, banks and even the post offices remain closed on this day. A handful of food stores and restaurants may be open for a short period, filled mainly with people who reserved a special Christmas meal in advance. Public transport services may or may not be available.
In some villages and towns, local actors enact the nativity scene playing the role of Mary and Joseph. Local farms lend donkeys or sheep to help the actors bring the scene alive. The performance is often accompanied by a choir or narrator reading from the bible.
Gift-giving is a more or less popular Christmas custom in the country. According to tradition, the gifts come from Saint Nicholas or his helpers known as Black Peters, on or around December 5, the eve of Saint Nicholas' Day. Saint Nicholas has an important role in the Christmas festivities in the country.
St. Nicholas's feast, held on December 6 in the Netherlands and elsewhere, is a popular children's holiday. Netherlands has long been a country of sailors and Saint Nicholas, who is believed to be the patron saint of sailors, is regarded here very highly. Children here believe that St. Nicholas sails from Spain on his feast day, December 5, along with Black Peter. Black Peter is believed to slide down the chimneys and fill the little wooden shoes left by the hearth with gifts.
Christmas Day is also an occassion of merry feasting and gorging on a luxurious meal. Many people here eat a large breakfast or brunch and a special Christmas meal. Some people prepare a sumptuous meal at home with a range of luxurious foods. Foods typically eaten during Christmas dinner consist of
North Sea shrimps; smoked fish (especially salmon and eel); soup; roast or stewed poultry or meat, such as duck, turkey, beef, wild boar or venison; and some choicest seasonal vegetables.