Celebrating Christmas in Amsterdam

November 21, 2013 by

Festivals & Events, Free Things To Do, Unforgettable Experiences


Sinterklaas arrives in Amsterdam at Christmas. Image courtesy of James Mostert on Flickr.

Celebrating Christmas in Amsterdam starts in the third weekend of November, when Sinterklaas and his helpers arrive in the city and sail down the Amstel River before parading through Amsterdam’s streets, which are lined with cheering youngsters.

Children leave out shoes on December 5th, the eve of St Nicholas’s Day, in the hope that Sinterklaas will reward them for behaving well with gifts of cookies and candy. He leaves sacks of presents to be unwrapped the next morning, and the Feast of St Nicholas itself is celebrated with family dinners and exchange of presents. Come December 25th, many Amsterdam families now celebrate Christmas again, with presents under a decorated tree and gastronomic blowouts.

This year, there is lots of festive fun to be had in Amsterdam over the Christmas season. The luxury department store de Bijenkorf kicks off the festivities when its Christmas lights are switched on in the evening of Thursday, November 21, when a vast Christmas tree goes up in Dam Square. In early December food stalls fill Leidseplein and Koningsplein, while Museumplein is transformed into Amsterdam’s biggest Christmas market and ice rinks appear all over the city. Christmas trees are sold at the floating Bloemenmarkt, the festive store Christmas Palace on Singel sells festive treats all year around and the gay-friendly market at Zeedijk is part of the Pink Christmas jollity. Most stores in central Amsterdam, including the exclusive Nine Streets shopping quarter, have extended hours.

Amsterdam Light Festival runs from December 6 to January 19, 2014, illuminating the Amstel with a million twinkling lights and nightly laser shows. There are Christmas carol and chamber concerts at the Concertgebouw and Muziekgebouw throughout December, and the pantomime Sleeping Beauty is running at the Muziektheater. The street performances and live music of Winter Parade take place outside the Oude Kerk between December 14 and January 4, 2014, and the Royal Theatre Carré hosts the World Christmas Circus from December 19 to January 5, 2014.

With one eye on visitors, the major museums, including the Rijksmuseum and Anne Frank House, plus some stores, cinemas, restaurants and bars around the Dam, Leidseplein and Museumplein remain open all day on December 25th.

- Sasha Heseltine

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