If you have Dutch ancestry, you may find yourself looking for ways to incorporate Holland Christmas traditions into your holiday celebration. A Dutch Christmas has many similarities to a celebration in the United States, but it tends to be more focused on enjoying time with family than giving and receiving presents.
A Traditional Christmas in Holland
There are several things that make Christmas magical in Holland. While many of these traditions will look familiar, most have a unique aspect to them based on Dutch ideals and values.
Santa is not a prominent figure in the traditional Holland Christmas celebration. Instead, children look forward to the arrival of St. Nicholas in November. St. Nicholas wears red bishop's robes and is accompanied by a helper who is known as Zwarte Piet or Black Pete. Unlike Santa Claus, St. Nicholas is a tall, slim man.
According to tradition, St. Nicholas and Black Pete live in Madrid. They are said to choose a different harbor in Holland for each year's arrival in order to give as many children as possible a chance to meet them. Children are told that St. Nicholas and Black Pete spend the year writing down good and bad behaviors in a large book and preparing a list of presents that they will give the Dutch children who have been well behaved. If children have been bad, however, they are told that Black Pete will chase them with a stick!
In recent years, the topic of Black Peter has divided the Dutch, some who want to keep him as part of their traditions, and some who believe it is a racist tradition that's best done away with.
In Holland, presents are traditionally exchanged on December 5, also known as St. Nicholas Eve, Sinterklaas Eve, or Sinterklass Eve. Presents are referred to as "surprises" and are creatively packaged in order to conceal the contents. For example, a gift might be wrapped inside a series of progressively smaller boxes or hidden in a location that must be found by figuring out a series of clues.
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are times of worship for Dutch families, since the children have already received their presents. It is customary to attend church services on both Christmas Eve and Christmas morning. After the Christmas morning service, families return home to sing carols and tell stories around the Christmas tree. Then, in the evening, they enjoy a large Christmas dinner.
"Merry Christmas" in Dutch is "Prettige Kerstfeest."
The day after Christmas is also celebrated as a holiday in Holland. It is called Tweede Kerstdag or Second Christmas Day and is a time of rest and relaxation. Many families go ice skating or visit extended family part of their celebration. In East Holland, they hold a special Advent ceremony where horns are blown to chase away evil spirits and to celebrate the birth of Christ.
Traditional Christmas Food
Since presents are not exchanged on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, enjoying lavish meals is an important part of the festivities for a traditional Christmas in Holland. If you are interested in incorporating Dutch Christmas traditions into your own celebration, consider making one of the following recipes:
- Kerstkrans, a Dutch Christmas ring, is a cake that is placed at the center of the table with a candle and some sprigs of holly.
- Pepernoot, also known as Christmas tree cookies, are coated with colored sugar crystals or decorated with silver balls and sugar strands.
- Kerstol, a Christmas bread, is often served for breakfast on Christmas morning.
Making Christmas Meaningful and Memorable
Incorporating elements of a traditional Holland Christmas into your own celebration can be a wonderful way to connect with your Dutch ancestors. If you have young children, remember to share the history behind these unique elements of your Christmas celebration as you create new holiday memories to treasure.