Christmas in the Netherlands, known as "Kerst" in Dutch, is celebrated with a mix of traditional customs, festive decorations, and a warm, family-centered atmosphere. Here's how Christmas is typically celebrated in the Netherlands:
The Christmas season begins with Advent, a time of preparation leading up to Christmas. Many Dutch households have Advent calendars, and an Advent wreath with candles is often used.
In the Netherlands, the primary gift-giving occasion is Sinterklaas, which falls on December 5th. Children receive presents on this day, not on Christmas. Sinterklaas is a legendary figure similar to Santa Claus, and the arrival of Sinterklaas is celebrated with parades, known as "Sinterklaasintochten," in various cities.
Homes, streets, and towns are beautifully decorated with festive lights, ornaments, and Christmas trees. The Dutch have their unique Christmas ornaments, including Delft Blue ceramic decorations.
Christmas trees are commonly used for decorations. Families decorate the tree with lights, ornaments, and garlands. Dutch homes often have a kerstster (Christmas star) at the top of the tree.
On December 5th, Sinterklaasavond (St. Nicholas' Eve) is celebrated. Families come together for a special evening meal, and children exchange gifts. Sinterklaas traditionally leaves presents in shoes, along with a letter, poem, or greeting.
Christmas Eve is celebrated with a festive family dinner, often featuring dishes like gourmetten (small table grills) or fondue. Church services are held, and many people attend a midnight Mass.
While gift-giving is more focused on Sinterklaas, some Dutch families exchange small gifts on Christmas Day. Children may receive presents from both Sinterklaas and Kerstman (Santa Claus).
Christmas meals in the Netherlands typically include dishes like roast meats, game, and traditional Dutch Christmas cookies, such as kerstkransjes (Christmas wreaths) and banketstaaf (almond pastry).
Christmas Day is a time for family gatherings, attending church services, and enjoying a festive meal. It is a day for relaxation and spending quality time with loved ones.
December 26th is known as "Tweede Kerstdag" (Second Christmas Day) and is a public holiday. It's a time for visiting friends and family and continuing the holiday celebrations.
Lighting candles in the windows is a Dutch tradition, symbolizing hospitality and welcoming the Holy Family. It is also a gesture of hope and remembrance.
The holiday season in the Netherlands extends through New Year's Eve, with fireworks, parties, and various celebrations to welcome the new year.
Christmas in the Netherlands combines the Dutch tradition of Sinterklaas with the more widely recognized aspects of Christmas. It's a time for warmth, family togetherness, and the enjoyment of delicious seasonal foods and treats.
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.