How to Celebrate a Dutch Christmas

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In Holland, Sinterklaas (or Santa Clause) arrives by ship with gifts for the children. Those who have been good will receive chocolate and other gifts in their shoes, while those who have been bad get coal or sticks instead.

  • Celebrate St. Nicolas's Eve and St. Nicholas's Day on December 5 and 6, as is the custom in Holland.

  • Understand that farmers will blow horns each evening during the Christmas season to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ and to scare away any evil spirits that might be lurking.

  • Remember that Sinterklaas, who lives in Spain during the year, will arrive accompanied by his helper Piets. He will then travel on a white horse to leave gifts for children who have been well-behaved.

  • Expect Sinterklaas and Piets to participate in a festive holiday parade.

  • Remember that Sinterklaas, who was also called Saint Nicholas in the past, is the patron saint of fishermen and is known for performing good deeds throughout the Mediterranean area.

  • Know that Sinterklaas will check in his red book to find out how the children have behaved.

  • Remind your children to leave their shoes by the fireplace (or heater) with carrots and hay for the horse, which will be exchanged for small gifts, including Dutch Christmas candy such as speculaas, marsepein and pepernoten.

  • Serve traditional holiday foods. Spice cookies, hot chocolate, apple fritters and doughnuts are favorites.

  • Plan to give and receive gifts on Christmas Eve.

  • Display "euphorbia pulcherrima" (a poinsettia plant) in your home. This red, star-shaped plant is the traditional Christmas flower.

Tips & Warnings

  • Understand that many people in the Netherlands also celebrate Christmas again on December 25, when they will spend the day visiting friends and family. December 26 is also a legal holiday.
  • "Vrolijk Kerstfeest" means "Merry Christmas" in Dutch.

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