NETHERLANDS

For most children in The Netherlands, the most important day during December is 5th December, when Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas) brings them their presents! St. Nicholas’ Day is on the 6th December, but in The Netherlands, the major celebrations are held on the 5th December, St. Nicholas’ Eve. The name Santa Claus comes from the name Sinterklaas.

On the evening that Sinterklaas arrives in The Netherlands, children leave a shoe out by the fireplace or sometimes a windowsill and sing Sinterklaas songs. They hope that Sinterklaas will come during the night with some presents. They also believe that if they leave some hay and carrots in their shoes for Sinterklaas’s horse, they will be left some sweets or small presents. They’re told that, during the night, Sinterklaas rides on the roofs on his horse and that a ‘Zwarte Piet’ will then climb down the chimney (or through a window) and put the presents and/or candy in their shoes. The evening of December 5th is called St. Nicholas’ Eve ‘Sinterklaasavond’ or ‘Pakjesavond’ (present evening). The children will receive their presents during the evening. There might be a knock at the door and you might find a sack full of presents!

Christmas traditions in the Netherlands are almost the same as the ones in Dutch speaking parts of Belgium (Flanders). The Dutch recognize two days of Christmas as public holidays in the Netherlands, calling December 25 Eerste Kerstdag (“first Christmas day”) and December 26 Tweede Kerstdag (“second Christmas day”). In families, it is customary to spend these days with either side of the family.
In Catholic parts of the country, it used to be common to attend Christmas Eve midnight mass; this custom is upheld, but mostly by the elder generation and by fewer people every year. Christmas Eve is these days a rather normal evening without any special gatherings or meals. On Christmas Day, throughout both Flanders and the Netherlands elaborated meals are prepared by the host or together as a family. Also meals of which every participant / guest is preparing one dish are very common. The week before Christmas is important to the retail trade, because this is the biggest sales week in the country. Christmas songs are heard everywhere. The cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Eindhoven are the busiest cities in terms of entertainment on Christmas Day. Many people do not exchange gifts on Christmas, since this is already done during a separate holiday (Sinterklaas) a few weeks before Christmas. In Twente people will blow the mid-winter horns around Christmas.
The Christmas season wraps up after the new year with Epiphany, or “Driekoningen”.

On January 6 children especially in the north of the Netherlands dress up as the Three Wise Men and travel in groups of three carrying lanterns, re-enacting the Epiphany and singing traditional songs for their hosts. In return they are rewarded with cakes and sweets. This practice is less common south of the great rivers. In the south and east of the Netherlands it is common practice to burn the Christmas trees of the community on a big pile on January 6 to celebrate the end of Christmas and the start of the new year.

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