Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet
For most children in the Netherlands the most important day of the Christmas season is 5 December, when (Saint Nicholas) brings them their presents and candy. Also the world famous "Santa Claus" derived his name from this Dutch Christmas tradition. Even though the official Sinterklaas day is 6 December, the big Sinterklaas celebrations are held on the 5th which is named ‘pakjesavond’ (presents' night).
Two weeks before ‘pakjesavond’ the Dutch celebrate the intocht
(arrival) of Sinterklaas. The story has it that Sinterklaas lives in Spain and every year he chooses a different harbour to arrive with his steam-boat in the Netherlands and give all the children the chance to see him once. It is a very big celebration in the streets and has started as long ago as 1888.
From the day of arrival of Sinterklaas until presents' night, the children leave clogs or shoes out to be filled with presents. They also believe that if they leave some hay and carrots in their shoes for Sinterklaas' horse, they will be given some sweets.
Children are told that Zwarte Piet keeps a record of all the things they have done in the past year, in a book. The story has it that good children will get presents from Sinterklaas, but bad children will get chased by Zwarte Piet with a stick!
Between Pepernoten and Pakjesavond
On ‘pakjesavond’ Sinteklaas often visits the children in the schools or some lucky children even get a personal visit at home. Adults also tend to enjoy this celebrations through holding an evening where they give each other presents that have been wrapped in an ‘artistic’ way with papier mâché representing a characteristic of the receiver and adding a personal poem.
Because a lot of children and adults have already received present with Sinterklaas, Christmas is really about the ambiance and the food. Many people buy a Christmas tree and decorate it with ‘kerstkransjes’ (Christmas wreath cookies), glass balls, gilded nuts, frosted bells, ribbons and white candles. A lot of Dutch people also decorate the outside of their house by hanging a Christmas wreath on the door.
During this season you find a lot of old-fashioned stalls on Christmas markets all over the Netherlands. Many of them selling seasonal favorites like pepernoten (gingerbread), oliebollen
(doughnuts with raisins and sugar) and appelflappen
(apple turnover) on the street.
Big feast on the 25th
Families spend the day together on the 25th. Some attend a late night Christmas service at church, after which they eat breakfast at home, often in the early hours. However with the Netherlands becoming increasingly non-confessional, many people tend to relax at home and enjoy a lot of food.
Breakfast usually consists of a brunch with a kerststol
(fruited Christmas loaf) with butter, and luxury breakfast items like fancy bread rolls, smoked salmon, pates, etc.
On Christmas day the Dutch have a variety of different traditions. They tend to eat red meats, roast pork, fondues or gourmetten
(a style of eating that involves a grill on the table so that everyone can cook bite-sized pieces of meat and vegetables themselves).
Of all traditions, gourmetten is the most typically Dutch Christmas meal, but requires special equipment, called a 'gourmet set'. This is similar to a raclette grill or party grill. Turkey is not usually part of the feast in the Netherlands. Second Christmas Day is often spent visiting family or, weather permitting, going ice skating or on an outing.
The Dutch national staff, just like the whole Team of Cosmopublic.eu, would like to thank all of our readers for their interest in and support of our work and wish you and your close ones a Merry Christmas, a happy festive season and a healthy and successful year 2014!