Christmas in the Netherlands

December 1, 2011 by

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The Netherlands has some unique holiday traditions

Traditionally, Christmas in The Netherlands is more about family than presents. Their day for gift-giving is the evening of Dec 5th/morning of December 6th when Sinterklaas comes to town from Spain. Thus the celebration of the birth of Jesus is more about feasting and family. December 25th is known as Eerste Kerstdag (First Christmas Day) and December 26th as Tweede Kerstday (Second Christmas Day). There’s a lot of carol singing, some Christmas trees but also Poinsettia plants or Kerststers which means Christmas Stars, and lots of eating. In the east of the country, from Advent Sunday until Christmas Eve there is also a tradition known as Midwinter Horn Blowing daily at dusk when farmers take long horns made from elder trees and announce the coming of Christ by blowing them over wells to get an eerie wailing sound.

But did I mention the feasting? The Dutch have a lot of foods whose name begins Kerst – for Christmas. There’s Kerstbrood, a Christmas loaf eaten at breakfast time, and Kerstkrans, a Christmas ring stuffed with almond paste, and Kerststol which is the bread again but with added fruit. There are Kerstkransjes which are Christmas wreath cookies, and Jan Hagel cookies which are special spiced cookies – for Christmas but without being called Christmas which I guess means you can eat them all year around. These days of course there is turkey creeping into the feast alongside the more traditional venison and roast pork, often cooked in small pieces at the table like fondue but in The Netherlands called Gourmetten. And it wouldn’t be a Dutch meal without cheese.

To digest this feast, Second Christmas Day involves ice-skating, or theater going. Then a bit more eating. As the world becomes more and more of a global village, this traditions are changing and Dec 25th is now becoming a day of gifts in The Netherlands as it is across much of the world. Hopefully they’ll never lose their own traditions of feasting, singing, and family though.

-Philippa Burne

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