The Netherlands, like every other Christian country in the world, has its own traditions. Some are similar if not identical to those of other countries. Some are very peculiar. Discover the decorations, the food, the gifts, and every other aspect of the Christmas traditions in the Netherlands.
1. Length of the Christmas period
Traditionally for all Dutch people, the Christmas period is officially inaugurated on December 6th, after the Sinterklaas holiday. Some take it very seriously and it is considered disrespectful and impolite to put up any Christmas decorations until after this date.
The closing of the Dutch Christmas season takes place on January 2nd. The arrival of the Three Wise Men, nor the day of the Epiphany, is celebrated so January 6th is a normal working day.
2. Sinterklaas and Kerstman
Sinterklaas is the Dutch equivalent of Santa Claus celebrated on the night of December 5-6. Sinterklaas was a bishop with Turkish origin but with Christian faith that according to tradition arrives every year and hands out gifts to the children who have behaved well during the year. However, he takes back with him the children who have misbehaved as punishment.
Kerstman, literally translated as Christmas man, is the name Santa Claus receives in the Netherlands. The Dutch in general do not celebrate this more Anglo-Saxon tradition, although in recent years some families are beginning to receive gifts twice in December.
3. The Christmas tree
Right after the Sinterklaas celebration, Christmas fir trees can be found at the street shopping stands that appear in every city or even in the supermarket. Many people in the Netherlands buy flowers almost every week. At Christmas time the tradition in the region is to buy real trees that are shipped from other European countries.
4. Burning of the tree after Christmas
One of the quintessential Dutch traditions is to burn the Christmas tree after the holidays. Large bonfires are organized by the municipalities of most towns and the inhabitants take their already wilted tree to give it a final farewell in the flames.
5. December 24th is a normal day
While in other cultures the dinner on the 24th is the big event of the Christmas season, for the Dutch Christmas Eve is just an ordinary day. There is no special dinner or family gatherings. There is the Nachtmis, or evening mass, where large numbers of people attend this religious celebration. This is the only day when a large part of the population sets foot in a church. On this day people work normal hours and there is no special dinner with the family.
6. Eerste Kerstdag and Tweede Kerstdag
Eerste Kerstdag or first day of Christmas is celebrated on December 25th and on this holiday the tradition is as in the rest of the West. Dutch families gather and spend the day together from breakfast, which evolves into a brunch, until dinner. The typical brunch will include numerous different types of bread and cheeses and above all kerststol, a traditional Christmas bread stuffed with fruits and nuts.
Tweede Kerstdag or second day of Christmas is December 26, a national holiday in the country. In other Anglo-Saxon cultures this day is known as Boxing Day and the custom is basically to relax at home and eat leftovers from the previous day. However in the Netherlands this day is traditionally identical to the 25th, except that you visit the other side of the family but still eat leftovers from the previous day. In general the stores will be open on this day and the sales season will begin.
The traditional celebration is to welcome the New Year at home with your friends and family and then go outside to meet more friends and maybe see the fireworks. The purchase and use of fire crackers by ordinary users is also allowed. Many people get hold of a large arsenal of legally and illegally purchased fireworks. On this day several incidents occur, which means the emergency services and firefighters have plenty of work.
8. Bonfires in Scheveningen
Every New Year the vreugdevuren or huge bonfires are set up on the beach of Scheveningen in The Hague. The beach of Scheveningen dares the beach of Duindorp to build the highest bonfire, reaching almost 50 meters in the last edition of 2019. These bonfires are made of pallets stacked by volunteers during the last days of the year.
This tradition has been celebrated since the 1980s, when it became fashionable to create bonfires to burn Christmas trees and each neighborhood had its own fire. Since there came a point when the city’s firefighters were not enough, it was decided to start organizing an event in a more secluded area that over the years has evolved into this celebration that attracts thousands of citizens.
9. Nieuwsjaarduik in Scheveningen
The Nieuwjaarsduik, or New Year’s Day swim, is one of the most famous events in the city of The Hague and one that you will undoubtedly appear in the news around the world. This tradition involves bathing in the icy waters of the North Sea. It is, according to the Dutch, the best way to bid farewell to Christmas.
Every January 1, thousands of Dutch people flock to the icy beaches of the Scheveningen district to continue a tradition that is gaining more and more followers. This custom has been in force since 1965, when Meneer van Scheijnde, a local resident and famous swimmer of the canals in the area, decided along with 7 other friends to start the year bathing in the beach. Since then this event has been gaining fame and in recent years has attracted more than 10,000 people.
For several decades, Hollywood has depicted the typical Christmas meal as a stuffed turkey being taken out of the oven. Ihe Netherlands, however, the tradition is to prepare what they call the “Gourmetten”, a meal based on small portions of different dishes served raw to be cooked by oneself in mini frying pans on plates placed in the center of the table.
Every family has its own menus and not everyone decides to “cook” Gourmetten, but in most homes you will find mini hamburgers, mini sausages, chicken, turkey, shrimp, some kind of fish and thousands of battered things.
One of the typical Christmas desserts are the oliebollen, or oil balls. Balls of dough that are fried in oil and sprinkled with powdered sugar on top. Some have raisins or Nutella inside. In December it is possible to find street food trucks where thee olibollen can be bought.