Celebrating Christmas in the Netherlands may not be as boring as what some internationals may think. In fact, integrating in the Dutch Christmas traditions make the Christmas experience even richer and jollier than what you may expect. Dutch Christmas is not as extravagant as any other Christmas in the world, like in the United States or Asia. The reasons could be rooted with the Calvinistic way of living of the Dutch, which includes modesty and being down-to-earth, and the Northern countries individualistic culture. I have been living in the Netherlands for ten years and I have only started spending the Christmas in the Netherlands in the last four years. Around December during Christmas time, I spent my first six years on traveling to different countries and back to my home country to escape the Dutch Christmas. Then after spending a Christmas in the Netherlands, I have realized that it is actually enjoyable and gives a totally different experience as spending Christmas anywhere in the world. It’s more relax and a lot cozier especially when spent with family.
What makes Dutch Christmas so special?
Below, I will highlight some reasons why Dutch Christmas is a unique experience.
1. Gezelligheid (Coziness)
Gezelligheid, which means coziness and fun in English, is a popular Dutch term that represents Christmas season. Coziness is about spending time with family and loved ones, whether it is eating together, playing board games, watching movies, reading books under a Christmas tree or hugging in the couch. The Netherlands is often cold in December and if you are lucky, there can be some snow. Because of this, people stay more on the inside than outside to reflect and to celebrate the coming of lights during this dark season. This inward feeling and lights are shared inside home starting from the family and towards other people.
2. Gift giving is not popular during Christmas
Giving gifts during Christmas is not a Dutch norm since young children already received their gifts during Sinterklaas, which is celebrated on 5th December. Sinterklaas is a Dutch equivalent of Santa Klaus in Christmas. A tradition says that Sinterklaas is from Spain and he rides a boat going to the Netherlands to reward “good children” and to bring together with him the “naughty children” back to Spain. Since we have two different cultures in the family, I still let my children enjoy Christmas by giving them gifts. 🙂
3. Two days Christmas celebration
Some countries celebrate their Christmas on the eve of December 24 through a family gathering or attending a mass followed by a Noche Buena (Christmas dinner at 12:00 midnight). For Christians in the Netherlands, it is possible to attend a mass in the evening before Christmas and during Christmas, then enjoy the traditional Christmas bread (or kerstol) together with the church community. For the general population, the Christmas is celebrated for two consecutive days on the 25th and 26th December by having Christmas dinners with the extended family of each partner. For a multi-cultural family like us, we follow the welcoming of Christmas on the 24th December as part of my Filipino background and celebrate with the extended family in the Netherlands on on 26th December. We attend mass during 25th December to celebrate with the church community.
4. Christmas cards
Dutch are also very thoughtful when it comes to sending Christmas cards to family, friends, and colleagues at work. It maybe an old gesture but is still effective in sending warm wishes to other people.
5. Dutch Christmas market (Kerstmarkt)
Christmas market in the Netherlands exists, though it is not as huge as the ones in Germany and in France. Yet, you will still enjoy watching choirs singing, will be mesmerized by Christmas lights and decorations, and be able to enjoy Christmas gluhwein and some Christmas treats. If you want to experience a nice Christmas market (and a unique Christmas in general), then I suggest you visit Valkenburg, which is considered the Christmas city of the Netherlands.
6. Dutch Christmas trees and decorations
It is a norm in the Netherlands to not set-up a Christmas tree before Sinterklaas is over. But once 6th December enters, you will immediately see many houses and shops transition to Christmas theme. There are very huge Christmas trees in every city center. Christmas songs are also played on the background. Even in the Dutch neighborhood, you can find lots of houses filled with Christmas decorations and lights and can smell the scent of fresh pine trees. These add to the feeling of coziness by both people who are living inside and outside the neighborhood.
If you are working in any Dutch company or institution, you will not miss the yearly kerspakket. A kerstpakket is a gift given by the bosses to their employees, days before the Christmas, as a sign of gratitude for the hard work of the employees throughout the year. Kerstpakket comes in various forms, such as from wine sets, to home appliances, food baskets or donations to NGOs. Sometimes, employees have the option to choose in which form they want to receive their kerstpakket.
8. Christmas gourmet
Gourmet is a popular, traditional way of celebrating Christmas dinners with family and friends in the Netherlands. Because of gourmet, you will have a chance to fry or barbecue your favorite meat, seafoods, and vegetables together with your family and friends. (Just think of the Korean Samgyeopsal!) Having gourmet as a dinner is cozy and it stimulates conversation among family and friends, in addition to the nice food and drinks.
9. Christmas snoep
The Netherlands is also not lagging behind when it comes to its Christmas specialties. You can choose from Speculaas (spiced biscuits), Pepernootjes (ginger nuts), Kerststol (fruited Dutch bread), and Applebeignets (Dutch apple fritters) to name a few.
10. Dutch christmas songs
Dutch Christmas songs have beautiful melody, even though someone does not understand (yet) Dutch. In fact, you may even find yourself humming these songs! Some of the Dutch Christmas songs includes Oh Denneboom (Oh Christmas tree), Hoor de Wind Waait de Bomen (The wind keeps blowing), Sinterklaas, Kapoentje (Saint Nicholas, my dear one), Zie Ginds Komt de Stoomboot (Look, here comes the steamboat), Sinterklaas, Goed Heilig Man (Saint Nicholas, Good Holy Man), Hoor Wie Stapt Daar Kinderen (Someone is coming, children, Op de hoge, hoge daken (Over high and gloomy roof tops, and O, kom er eens kijken (O, come have a look). Want a sample? Enjoy the video link below.