The Netherlands, known for its picturesque canals, colorful tulip fields, and historic windmills, is not only a fantastic destination for tourists but also a delightful place to celebrate the holidays. With a unique blend of tradition, festivity, and warmth, the Dutch holiday season offers a magical experience for both locals and visitors. In this article, we’ll explore how the Netherlands celebrates the holidays, including Sinterklaas, Christmas, and New Year’s, making it a perfect winter destination.

Sinterklaas: A Dutch Delight

In the Netherlands, the holiday season officially kicks off with the arrival of Sinterklaas on the second Saturday in November. Sinterklaas is a beloved figure who closely resembles Santa Claus, although he has his unique characteristics. He arrives in the country by steamboat from Spain, accompanied by his trusty helpers known as “Zwarte Pieten” or Black Petes. The Sinterklaas celebration lasts until December 5th when Dutch families come together to exchange gifts.

The festive activities during Sinterklaas include:

  1. Arrival Parades: Cities and towns across the Netherlands host grand arrival parades for Sinterklaas, featuring boats, music, and thousands of cheering children. The largest and most famous arrival takes place in Amsterdam.
  2. Shoe-Candy Tradition: Children place their shoes by the fireplace, and Sinterklaas and his Zwarte Pieten fill them with small gifts, sweets, and a chocolate letter, representing the first letter of the child’s name.
  3. Sinterklaas Eve: On the evening of December 5th, families gather to exchange gifts, often accompanied by poems and riddles. This gift-giving tradition is an opportunity for loved ones to show their affection through thoughtful presents and playful verses.
  4. Pepernoten and Speculaas: During the Sinterklaas season, Dutch bakeries and stores are filled with traditional sweets such as pepernoten (spiced cookies) and speculaas (spiced biscuits), which are enjoyed by young and old alike.

Cozy Christmas Celebrations

In the Netherlands, Christmas is celebrated with warmth and togetherness. While it may not have the same commercial hype as in some other countries, the Dutch take the opportunity to spend quality time with family and friends.

Here’s how the Dutch celebrate Christmas:

  1. Kerstavond: Christmas Eve is a time for families to come together and share a meal or attend church services. Many towns and cities have special Christmas Eve church services that are open to the public.
  2. Eerste Kerstdag and Tweede Kerstdag: Christmas Day (Eerste Kerstdag) and the day after (Tweede Kerstdag) are both national holidays in the Netherlands. Families often gather for festive meals, and some choose to visit Christmas markets or go for long walks in the beautiful Dutch countryside.
  3. Christmas Markets: Dutch cities, including Maastricht, Dordrecht, and Valkenburg, host Christmas markets featuring local crafts, holiday treats, and seasonal decorations. It’s an excellent opportunity to pick up unique gifts and enjoy the holiday ambiance.
  4. Gourmetten: A popular Christmas tradition in the Netherlands is gourmetten, a communal cooking experience where small pieces of meat, fish, and vegetables are grilled at the table. It’s a fun and interactive way to enjoy a holiday meal.
  5. Kerststol: A Dutch Christmas is not complete without the indulgence of kerststol, a festive fruit bread filled with almond paste and dusted with powdered sugar. It’s a treat you’ll find in many Dutch homes during the holiday season.

Oud en Nieuw: Dutch New Year’s Eve

New Year’s Eve, or Oud en Nieuw in Dutch, is another exciting holiday celebration in the Netherlands. Dutch cities come alive with fireworks, parties, and traditions to welcome the new year.

Here’s how the Dutch celebrate Oud en Nieuw:

  1. Fireworks: New Year’s Eve in the Netherlands is marked by spectacular fireworks displays. Many cities have designated areas for public fireworks, and locals often purchase their own fireworks to celebrate.
  2. Oliebollen: Oliebollen, which translates to “oil balls,” are deep-fried doughnuts sprinkled with powdered sugar. They are a traditional treat enjoyed on Oud en Nieuw.
  3. Carbide Shooting: In some rural areas of the Netherlands, carbide shooting is a unique New Year’s Eve tradition. Participants ignite small explosions by adding water to carbide in a milk churn, creating loud booms to welcome the new year.
  4. Midnight Toast: At the stroke of midnight, Dutch people raise their glasses to toast the new year with champagne or another favorite beverage.
  5. New Year’s Dive: For the adventurous, some coastal towns host a “New Year’s Dive” where brave participants take a dip in the icy waters of the North Sea to start the year with a refreshing splash.

The Netherlands offers a festive and culturally rich holiday season, filled with traditions that celebrate togetherness, delicious treats, and the spirit of giving. Whether you’re enjoying Sinterklaas, Christmas, or Oud en Nieuw, the Dutch holiday season is a magical time to visit this charming country and experience its unique traditions and warm hospitality. So, plan your holiday trip to the Netherlands and immerse yourself in the festive fun.