Christmas Traditions In The Netherlands

December 13, 2019

December is here and with it the Christmas traditions that come around every year. Whether it’s carol singing, wreath making or seeing Santa there are certain things that bring Christmas to life each December. With traditions varying across Europe, we thought we’d take a look at Christmas traditions in the Netherlands. Read on to find out more

1. Sinterklaas

In contrast to other countries, in Holland, Santa is not a prominent figure. Instead, St Nicholas or Sinterklaas is the more celebrated figure and his arrival in November brings crowds of people to the streets to greet him.

Sinterklaas arrives from his home of Madrid each November into the waterways of Holland, greeting children across the country before riding his horse Amerigo through the streets, making sure he meets as many people as possible. Often accompanied by grand parades where thousands of gingerbread biscuits or peppernoten are handed out, the arrival of Sinterklaas truly marks the start of the festive period in Holland.


2. St Nicholas Eve

In the Netherlands, presents are traditionally exchanged on December 5th, also known as St Nicholas Eve or Sinterklaas Eve. Presents are referred to as surprises and are creatively packaged or hidden, encouraging children to find them via a series of clues. Children leave out their shoes on the eve of the 5th of December in the hope that Sinterklaas will leave a treat in there. They also leave hay and carrots out for his horse. Traditional gifts left include clementines, peppernoten and handwritten poems.


3. Midwinter Hoornblazen

Often a tradition in more rural areas of the Netherlands, Midwinter Hoornblazen or hornblowing heralds the start of advent. Handmade horns carved from birch or elder stretch three or four foot and are blown over wells at the start of December to announce advent. The powerful low sounds from these horns can be heard for miles around and it’s not unusual for several farms to call one another with their horns. Some are blown each day of advent and others are reserved for the first and last days of the spiritual celebration.


4. Christmas Day

Since most of the gift giving happens on 5th December, Christmas day is a time for quiet worship, to spend time with family and enjoy delicious food. Church services occur throughout the country on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to celebrate the birth of Christ and are attended by thousands of Dutch people each year. Festive food includes lavish dinners with meats such as venison, roast goose or pork. Roasted chestnuts, gingerbread cookies and rich breads with fruit and nuts (stollen) are also very popular. Lots of families bake biscuits in the shape of the letters of each member of the family to add a personal touch to their festive fare too. The traditional way to eat with the family is called ‘gourmetten’, which is a small stove which is placed in the centre of the table and everyone helps themselves.

5. Kerstbomen

Dutch Christmas trees pop up across the Netherlands soon after Sinterklaas Eve (5th December). People put them up in their homes and public spaces, decorating them with lights, baubles and homemade ornaments which are often edible and are eaten on Christmas day. Some of the grandest Christmas trees can be found in the town and city squares. The Christmas tree on Dam Square in the heart of Amsterdam reaches over 20 metres into the sky and is adorned with over 4 km of Christmas lights. Carol singers, musical performances and festive food and drink make the lighting of the Christmas tree in mid-December extra special.


Why not see some of the Christmas traditions in Holland yourself on a crossing from Newcastle to Amsterdam with DFDS?

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