Christmas in the Netherlands, often referred to as "Kerst" or "Kerstmis," is celebrated with a mix of traditional Dutch customs, secular festivities, and a strong emphasis on togetherness and family. Here's how Christmas is typically celebrated in the Netherlands:
The Christmas season in the Netherlands begins with Advent, which is marked by the lighting of Advent candles, Advent calendars, and special church services in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
The Dutch have a unique tradition on December 5th, known as Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas). Sinterklaas arrives in the Netherlands by steamboat from Spain, accompanied by his helpers, known as "Zwarte Piet" (Black Pete), who distribute gifts to children. This celebration is separate from Christmas but serves as a major gift-giving event in the holiday season.
Dutch households decorate Christmas trees, often with traditional ornaments, lights, and tinsel. In some regions, the trees are also adorned with figurines and candles.
Christmas Eve (Kerstavond) is typically celebrated with a festive family meal. It's not as elaborate as the Christmas Day feast, but it's an important part of the celebration. Some families also attend a church service.
Christmas Day is a quieter and more religious day, often marked by attending church services, particularly for those who practice Christianity. After church, families may enjoy a special Christmas brunch or dinner.
Sending Christmas cards with warm wishes is a common tradition in the Netherlands, as is exchanging greetings with friends and family.
Some people attend a midnight Mass on Christmas Eve or Christmas night. The church services are an essential part of the holiday for many Dutch Christians.
Gift-giving in the Netherlands is not as elaborate as in some other countries, as the major gift-giving event takes place during Sinterklaas. However, some families do exchange small gifts on Christmas Day.
In some cities, there are Christmas light festivals and displays that create a festive atmosphere during the holiday season.
Traditional Dutch holiday treats include "kerststol," a sweet bread with raisins, almond paste, and powdered sugar, and "kerstkrans," a ring-shaped Christmas pastry.
Christmas songs and caroling are an integral part of the holiday season, with many Dutch families and groups singing traditional carols.
The holiday season in the Netherlands extends into New Year's Eve (Oud en Nieuw), which is marked by fireworks, parties, and celebrations to welcome the new year.
Overall, Christmas in the Netherlands is a time for family gatherings, festive decorations, and traditional treats. While the focus may be less on gifts, it is very much about spending time with loved ones and celebrating the holiday spirit.
St Nicholas arrives early in Holland with his gifts, in November. He is dressed in Bishop's robes and journeys in a boat with his helper who is called Black Peter and who wears Spanish clothes. It is said that the pair live most of the year preparing lists of presents and writing every child's behavior in a very large book. Many people go to Amsterdam docks to greet him. He mounts a snow horse and rides through the streets in a great parade, amid many festivities.
December 5th is Sinterklaas Eve or Sinterklass Eve, and presents are given and received.
Farmers in Holland blow long horns at sunset each evening during the Christmas period. The horns are blown over water wells which makes the sound extremely loud. This is done to announce the coming of Christmas.
All Dutch children know that Sinterklaas or Sinterklass lived in Spain, where he spends his time recording the behavior of all the children in his little red book, while Piet stocks up on the presents.
Christmas Day is a religious time, and the day is spent with visits to Church. In the afternoon, people sit around the tree, sing carols and tell stories.