Rosalia Gurrola

Written by Rosalia Gurrola

Modified & Updated: 25 Jun 2024


Ever wondered what makes Christmas in the Netherlands so special? From unique traditions to mouth-watering treats, the Dutch have their own way of celebrating the festive season. Did you know that Sinterklaas, the Dutch version of Santa Claus, arrives by boat from Spain? Or that children leave out shoes instead of stockings? Christmas markets fill the air with the scent of freshly baked oliebollen, a traditional Dutch doughnut. Families gather to sing carols and exchange gifts, creating memories that last a lifetime. Join us as we explore 25 fascinating facts about Christmas in the Netherlands, guaranteed to bring a smile to your face and a touch of Dutch magic to your holiday season.

Table of Contents

Christmas Traditions in the Netherlands

Christmas in the Netherlands is a magical time filled with unique traditions and celebrations. The Dutch have their own way of making the holiday season special, blending old customs with modern festivities.

  1. Sinterklaas Arrival: Sinterklaas, the Dutch version of Santa Claus, arrives by boat from Spain in mid-November. This event is broadcast on national television and marks the beginning of the festive season.

  2. Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet: Sinterklaas is accompanied by Zwarte Piet, his helper. They visit homes to deliver gifts and sweets to children who have been good throughout the year.

  3. Shoes by the Fireplace: Dutch children place their shoes by the fireplace or door, hoping Sinterklaas will fill them with treats like chocolate letters, marzipan, and small toys.

Dutch Christmas Cuisine

Food plays a significant role in Dutch Christmas celebrations. Traditional dishes and treats are enjoyed by families and friends during the holiday season.

  1. Gourmetten: A popular Christmas Eve tradition where families gather around a gourmet set to cook small pieces of meat, fish, and vegetables together.

  2. Kerststol: A festive bread filled with dried fruits, nuts, and marzipan, often enjoyed during Christmas breakfast or brunch.

  3. Oliebollen: These deep-fried dough balls, similar to doughnuts, are a favorite treat during the holiday season, especially on New Year's Eve.

Festive Decorations and Markets

The Netherlands transforms into a winter wonderland with beautiful decorations and bustling Christmas markets.

  1. Christmas Trees: Dutch families decorate Christmas trees with lights, ornaments, and tinsel. The tradition of having a Christmas tree dates back to the 19th century.

  2. Christmas Markets: Cities like Amsterdam, Maastricht, and Haarlem host charming Christmas markets where visitors can buy gifts, enjoy festive foods, and soak in the holiday spirit.

  3. Ice Skating: Temporary ice rinks pop up in city centers, allowing people of all ages to enjoy ice skating during the holiday season.

Unique Dutch Christmas Customs

The Dutch have some unique customs that set their Christmas celebrations apart from other countries.

  1. Second Christmas Day: In the Netherlands, Christmas is celebrated over two days, December 25th and 26th. The second day, known as Tweede Kerstdag, is often spent visiting extended family or enjoying leisurely activities.

  2. Christmas Cards: Sending Christmas cards is a popular tradition. Dutch people often send cards to friends, family, and colleagues to wish them a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

  3. Midnight Mass: Many Dutch people attend Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, a tradition that dates back centuries and is still observed by many.

Dutch Christmas Music and Entertainment

Music and entertainment are integral parts of the Dutch Christmas experience, adding to the festive atmosphere.

  1. Christmas Carols: Singing Christmas carols is a beloved tradition. Popular carols include "Stille Nacht" (Silent Night) and "De Herdertjes Lagen Bij Nachte" (The Shepherds Lay by Night).

  2. Christmas Concerts: Many cities host Christmas concerts featuring choirs, orchestras, and soloists performing festive music.

  3. Christmas Movies: Watching Christmas movies is a favorite pastime. Classics like "Home Alone" and "Elf" are popular choices for family movie nights.

Dutch Christmas Gifts and Giving

Gift-giving is an important part of Dutch Christmas celebrations, with a focus on thoughtful and meaningful presents.

  1. Surprises: Dutch people often exchange "surprises," which are creatively wrapped gifts accompanied by humorous poems that hint at the contents.

  2. Charity: Many Dutch people donate to charities or volunteer their time to help those in need during the holiday season.

  3. Gift Exchanges: Families and friends often organize gift exchanges, where each person draws a name and buys a gift for that individual.

Dutch Christmas Celebrations Around the World

Dutch Christmas traditions have spread to various parts of the world, influencing celebrations in different countries.

  1. Dutch Communities Abroad: Dutch expatriates and communities around the world continue to celebrate Sinterklaas and other Dutch Christmas traditions, keeping their heritage alive.

  2. Influence on Other Cultures: Elements of Dutch Christmas traditions, such as Sinterklaas, have influenced holiday celebrations in countries like Belgium, Germany, and the United States.

Fun Facts About Dutch Christmas

Here are some fun and lesser-known facts about Christmas in the Netherlands that add to the charm of the holiday season.

  1. Chocolate Letters: One of the most popular Sinterklaas treats is chocolate letters, with each child receiving the first letter of their name made out of chocolate.

  2. Pepernoten: Small, spiced cookies called pepernoten are a favorite treat during the Sinterklaas season. They are often thrown into the air by Zwarte Piet for children to catch.

  3. Sinterklaas' Book: Sinterklaas keeps a big book where he records the behavior of children throughout the year, determining who has been naughty or nice.

  4. Sinterklaas' Horse: Sinterklaas rides a white horse named Amerigo, who helps him deliver gifts to children across the Netherlands.

  5. Sinterklaas' Departure: After the festivities, Sinterklaas leaves the Netherlands on December 6th, marking the end of the Sinterklaas season and the beginning of Christmas preparations.

Christmas in the Netherlands: A Unique Celebration

Dutch Christmas traditions offer a blend of rich history and modern fun. From Sinterklaas arriving by boat to the cozy Christmas markets, there's something for everyone. The Dutch love their festive foods like oliebollen and speculaas, adding a delicious touch to the celebrations. Unique customs like putting shoes out for Sinterklaas and celebrating Second Christmas Day make the season extra special.

Whether you're enjoying the twinkling lights in Amsterdam or participating in a local parade, the Netherlands provides a memorable holiday experience. These traditions not only bring joy but also connect families and communities. So, if you ever get the chance, experiencing Christmas in the Netherlands is a must. It’s a time filled with warmth, laughter, and unique customs that you won't find anywhere else.

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