10 ways to celebrate a Dutch Christmas

So here you are. You have decided to celebrate Christmas the Dutch way. Instead of splitting the bill, you’re looking for other options to give Christmas that unique touch of the Dutch. Here are ten ways to enjoy the festive season like a Dutchie!

Dutch Christmas
Dutch Christmas (photo: stock)

Remember Sinterklaas

First things first. The Dutch have two Santas who are quite distinct. The ‘real’ Santa is  Saint Nicholas or Sinterklaas. In fact, that’s where the name Santa Claus comes from. Sinterklaas is dressed as a bishop and his feast is celebrated on St. Nicholas’ Eve on December 5. On this evening, a legion of Sinterklaas helpers called Black Pete drop toys and goodies for children down the Dutch chimneys.

Sinterklaas in chocolate (photo: Annemarie Latour)

2.  Don’t confuse Sinterklaas with the Kerstman

The other Santa is called Kerstman, which simply translates as ‘Christmas man’. He is the same character as Santa Claus with his round belly and jolly demeanour. The Kerstman may leave a few presents under the Christmas tree, but nothing quite as fancy as good old usually Sinterklaas does. After all, the Dutch are quite fond of their Sinterklaas traditions.

Kerstman (photo: Annemarie Latour)

3.  Decorate every inch and corner of your home

There’s hardly a Dutch home without Christmas trimmings and a Christmas tree. Whether it’s a real tree, an artificial tree or a creative wooden structure resembling a tree: it doesn’t matter how you decorate, as long as you share the spirit of Christmas. Don’t forget to decorate the rest of the house as well. That’s why Dutch shops and garden centres sell Christmas decorations for all budgets and in all colours, shapes and sizes.

Christmas decorations
Christmas decorations (photo: Annemarie Latour)

4.  Celebrate two Christmas days

Never mind the Twelve Days of Christmas. In the Netherlands, there are only two: First Christmas Day (December 25) and Second Christmas Day (December 26). And yes, that’s actually what they’re called, just to keep things simple.

two days of Christmas
Two days of Christmas (photo: stock)

Two days of Christmas (illustration: stock)

5.  Sing Dutch carols at church

Church services are still important at Christmas. Catholics often go to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, while Protestants usually attend services on Christmas morning. Some families do both. In all cases, Dutch Christmas carols are sung, including old religious folk songs, such as Nu zijt wellekome (‘you are welcome now’) and De herdertjes lagen bij nachte (‘the little shepherds lay by night’).

christmas choir
Dutch Christmas choir (photo: kerstkoorcolmschate.nl)

6.  Relax on First Christmas Day

First Christmas Day is spent with the family. After attending church – for those of the Christian faith – people return home to watch Christmas movies, play board games, read books, listen to music, relax, or take a nap to catch up on some sleep. Shops are closed but restaurants are open for those who wish to eat out. More often, however, a festive Christmas dinner is cooked at home.

Relaxing at Christmas (photo: Annemarie Latour)

7.  Go out on Second Christmas Day

On Second Christmas Day, it’s time to get active. In the afternoon, families go out to visit relatives and friends, they take walks, attend a winter event, or go to the cinema or a concert. In the evening, gourmetten is a popular dinner activity. A gourmetten hob or hot plate is put on the dining table, where you prepare your own meal by using a set of mini pans to cook your own choice of meat, fish, vegetables or even pancakes.

Gourmetten (photo: stock)

8.  Say ‘Vrolijk kerstfeest’

The Dutch wish each other a Happy or Merry Christmas by saying Vrolijk Kerstfeest, which phonetically sounds something like ‘fro-luck kairst-fayst’. Just leave out the ho-ho-ho, as this means ‘wait a minute’ in Dutch. You don’t want to be left standing outside at the front door during a cold Dutch winter.

vrolijk kerstfeest
Vrolijk Kerstfeest (old card with old Dutch spelling)

9.  Bring a sweet tooth

Besides Christmas dinner, the Dutch enjoy their Christmas treats. Traditionally, sweet food and treats are part of the Dutch Christmas tradition. Think of banketstaaf, a large flaky puff pastry bar filled with a creamy almond paste and dusted with sugar. Or try kerststol, a sweet bread containing currents, raisins and almond paste. You can also sip a glass of bisschopswijn made of red mulled wine, oranges, lemon and spices such as cinnamon, cloves, aniseed and vanilla.

Bisschopswijn (photo: stock)

10.  Leave your clogs at home

Last but not least, leave your clogs at home. Nobody in Holland wears clogs, unless you’re a tourist. Instead, bring your warm pantoffels (slippers) to spend Christmas the Dutch way. Put your feet up and remember that the Dutch know the difference between work and play. Or as the expression goes: Na gedane arbeid is het goed rusten (after finishing a job, it’s time to enjoy your rest). Have a Vrolijk Kerstfeest!

pantoffel klompen

© Annemarie Latour

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