It’s that time of the year again in Holland: the first ‘pepernoten’ have been sighted in your local supermarket, debates on zwarte piet are in full swing again and Christmas is just around the corner. Maybe it’s a good time to gift yourself that long-awaited Dutch course, too (now with a 20% discount, here)? Either way, here’s LearnDutchOnline.nl’s take on how to celebrate the holidays in the Netherlands. Enjoy!
First of all: what’s the real Dutch Christmas?
In the Netherlands the celebration of Sinterklaas (= lit. Santa Clause, it doesn’t only sound the same) is far more popular than the ‘American’ Christmas. Fun fact: according to some, our Dutch Sinterklaas is actually the foundation of the internationally more popular Christmas! And the similaraties are indeed uncanny. Luckily, the racist character of blackface ‘zwarte piet’ was left out when this holiday traveled to the U.S. though.
The festival of Sinterklaas and Piet is therefore the actual Dutch Christmas. This doesn’t mean Christmas isn’t celebrated in the Netherlands however. It’s just less popular. In this article we hope to give typical Dutch traditions and tips for both celebrations – essential if you want to enjoy the full holiday experience here.
How to avoid fighting during Christmas in the Netherlands
The number 1 rule here is: don’t discuss politics and religion, or the covid virus. Just don’t. Talk about topics that are fun (and not only for you) and things you could help eachother out with (for example: work, hobbies, Netflix, sports etc.).
Show genuine interest in eachother, give lots of love and play games and watch movies everyone likes. Bring food you know someone likes. Forgive eachother and say sorry and let stuff go. That way you are really honoring these days!
Putting your shoe down (= je schoen zetten)
This is a real nice one! If you did this when growing up as a kid, you must be Dutch.
The tradition of putting your shoe down is honoured during the Sinterklaas period. Kids can lay their shoes down, at the door, at the chimney or a similar spot, and Sinterklaas and his friends will then come by – when everyone is sleeping of course – and fill their shoes with delicious candy, gifts and sometimes even some wise and sweet words of the Good and Holy man (=Goedheiligman, nickname for Sinterklaas)! Truly magical!
Celebrate it with friends and family (and also with neigbours and colleagues)
Obviously, you should celebrate the holidays with your close ones. But why not mix it up a little – and allocate at least part of the holidays to time with your (lonely) neighbours and colleagues? Especially during these times, with at rise of depression and mental issues, it’s essential to look out for eachother. And isn’t that what Christmas is all about?
Invite people regardless of if they actually celebrate the holiday – you never know, right? You probably end up having a great time, and make some new friends in the process.
Celebrate it with traditional Dutch holiday food
What to definitely eat and serve during the respective celebrations:
Pepernoten and chocoladeletters during Sinterklaas.
Oliebollen during New Years’ Eve.
Kerstbrood with ‘spijs’ during Christmas.
How to celebrate Oud en Nieuw: with or without fireworks?
There’s a ban on firework this year, to the delight of many. And we humble Dutchies at LDO also can’t deny the tremendous impact the firework celebration has on the environment, people, and especially animals. So: no fireworks for us normal people this year. Beter!
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Doing a ‘voetbal surprise’ with friends
A surprise is the game you play during Sinterklaas especially, when you bought gifts for your friends/family and wrapped it up in a nice craft. It’s really nice, since you should also add your very own poem tailored to the receiver. The one getting your gift, craft and rhyme does not know it’s from you: it’s part of the game.
Since we all might not be not moving as much as we should (because of the pandemic), we at LDO thought of a soccer surprise game, so you can burn those holiday calories and battle the bad vibes with some fun small sports game together!
It’s very easy:
- Use a small soccer ball, available at sports shop Aktie Sport or online
- Form teams of 2, and mix it up: everyone should’ve been in a team together at least once!
- Set up small goals in your living room or garden, the field doesn’t have to be big: just 20 by 20 steps
- Use a stopwatch (the one on your phone is also good of course) and set the game time to 3 minutes per game
- You can win by scoring the most goals or by playing the ball through your opponents legs (‘panna’)
The winning team can open their ‘surprise’ craft and read their poem out loud. Everyone should be able to hear it! Continue till everyone opened up their gift and played the game at least once (or whatever you prefer). Make sure to only play on the floor, not in the air – to stay safe.
Christmas and Sinterklaas shopping: getting the gifts
Gifts are obviously important during these holidays, but not essential. As we say in Dutch, too: het gaat om het gebaar, meaning: it’s about the gesture. Christmas shopping is done (way) before the actual holidays. These might help you with that. More important is to be there for eachother and have a great time. One traditional Dutch way to achieve this is..
Watch Christmas movies!
An absolute must if you’d ask us! Watching Home Alone goes without saying (we hope). But unless you’ve been living under a rock, you must have noticed that Netflix added a whole new bunch of new Christmas flicks. If you feel you watched all of them one too many times, you can easily filter for ‘feel good movies’. Or Christmas (=Kerst in Dutch) of course.
Here’s our pick of great Christmas movie for the whole family:
- Home Alone 1, 2 and 3
- Daddy’s Home, both parts
- Jingle all the Way
- Miracle on 34th Street
- The Night Before Christmas
- The Santa Clause, all parts
Christmas Eve: Going to church
Yes, for lots of Dutch people Christmas (the non-Sinterklaas version) still has a religious meaning. On Christmas Eve they go to church – which should be nice to do even if you’re not practicing any faith. A new experience, which will probably only add to the Christmas vibes!
Big meals, lots of eating!
Most Dutch people with roots elsewhere celebrate Christmas and New Year’s Eve with food. A. Lot. Of. Food. Especially Dutchies with Surinamese and Moroccan roots prepare a variety of snacks and meals during these holidays. So if you thought this was a real Dutch thing, now you know where it started.
You probably know Surinamese food if you live in the bigger cities of the Netherlands. Roti, variousmeat and fish sandwiches as well asthe popular nasi and bami are just a few household meals from the extensive and diverse Surinamese kitchen. The country of Suriname was a Dutch colony not too long ago. There are still (quite young) people alive that experienced these colonial times. The culture, language and habits became naturally intertwined with the ‘original’ Dutch ones – that was and is also influenced heavily by other colonies/cultures.
The influence of Dutch Turks and Indonesians – is also undeniable, and it’s always a good idea to grab a döner, some amazing Indonesian food during these holidays – for example when watching that traditional Christmas movie. Or after that sweaty game of voetbal surprise. You read it here first.
May all your days, and the upcoming holidays especially, be filled with love, light, health and peace – for you and your loved ones.