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Exploring Dutch Christmas Traditions – An Insider’s Guide to Celebrating Christmas in the Netherlands

Ever wondered how the Dutch celebrate Christmas? Well, you’re in for a treat! The Netherlands has its own unique set of festive customs and traditions to make the holiday season truly magical. From the arrival of Sinterklaas to the mouthwatering Dutch Christmas cuisine, get ready to explore an insider’s guide to celebrating Christmas in the Netherlands.

Short Summary

  • Explore Dutch Christmas traditions like Sinterklaas and Pakjesavond

  • Decorate with traditional adornments & enjoy unique cuisine for a festive season

  • Celebrate family time, music and events to embrace the joy of Christ’s birth

Distinguishing Sinterklaas and Christmas

Sinterklass Arrives In Holland
Sinterklass Arrives In Holland

In the Netherlands, the festive season is marked by two distinct celebrations: Sinterklaas and Christmas. While Sinterklaas is a centuries-old Dutch tradition, it’s essential to understand that it’s different from Christmas celebrations and has its own set of customs and gift-giving occasions. Sinterklaas, based on Saint Nicholas, is celebrated annually on December 5, known as Sinterklaas Avond or the eve of St. Nicholas’ birthday. This celebration is separate from Christmas, which begins on December 25 and is called Eerste Kerstdag or the first day of Christmas.

Sinterklaas, the Dutch version of Santa Claus, predates and inspires the modern-day figure of Santa Claus. This unique Dutch Christmas tradition includes Sinterklaas’ trusty sidekick, Black Peter or Zwarte Piet, who is believed to go down chimneys to leave presents for children. So, while Sinterklaas and Christmas may seem similar, the Dutch Christmas traditions distinctly separate the two celebrations, providing a double dose of festive cheer!

The Arrival of Sinterklaas

Kicking off the festive season, Sinterklaas arrives in the Netherlands around mid-November. This exciting event is marked by parades and celebrations in various cities and towns, with Sinterklaas riding his white horse, accompanied by his helper, Black Peter. The arrival of Sinterklaas is a beloved Dutch tradition that sparks anticipation and excitement for the upcoming holiday season.

During this time, Dutch children eagerly leave their shoes filled with hay, carrots, and sugar for Sinterklaas’s horse, hoping to receive small gifts and treats in return. This heartwarming tradition epitomizes the spirit of Dutch Christmas and creates unforgettable memories for children and their families.

Gift-Giving on Pakjesavond

On December 5, the eve of St. Nicholas’s birthday, Dutch families celebrate Pakjesavond, a special gift-giving occasion separate from Christmas celebrations. On this Christmas Eve night, Dutch children eagerly await gifts from Sinterklaas, delivered by his helpful assistant, Black Peter. The gifting tradition in the Netherlands is unique, with children leaving their shoes out for Sinterklaas to fill with presents. These gifts often include poems, packages with riddles, or cleverly hidden surprises, creating a fun and mysterious atmosphere.

Popular presents from Sinterklaas include chocolate letters, representing the first letter of each family member’s name. This delightful gift-giving tradition adds another layer of excitement and charm to the Dutch Christmas experience, making the season even more magical.

Embracing Dutch Christmas Customs

Dutchy Family Celebrating Baby's First Christmas
Dutchy Family Celebrating Baby’s First Christmas

As the festive season unfolds, the Dutch celebrate Christmas by embracing their customs, which include two days of celebration, unique decorations, and a strong focus on family time. On December 25 and 26, Dutch families come together for First and Second Christmas Day, sharing festive meals, playing games, and watching movies. Christmas trees, lights, and ornaments adorn homes, creating a warm and cozy atmosphere.

In the Netherlands, Christmas is a time for family and togetherness, with an emphasis on spending quality time with loved ones. These Netherlands Christmas traditions make Dutch Christmas celebrations truly special and memorable, fostering a sense of unity and happiness during the holiday season.

Two Days of Celebration

Christmas in the Netherlands is celebrated over two days, known as First and Second Christmas Day. On December 25, or Eerste Kerstdag, Dutch families gather to wish each other a Merry Christmas and indulge in holiday feasts. This day is often spent at home, enjoying the company of close family members and participating in activities such as playing games and watching movies.

On Christmas Eve, December 26, or Tweede Kerstdag, the celebrations continue with many Dutch families attending church services or visiting extended family and friends. This additional day of celebration allows for further bonding and enjoyment among loved ones, reinforcing the importance of family and togetherness during the festive season.

Decorating for Christmas

Dutch Christmas decorations highlight simplicity and elegance, with traditional decorations such as lights, candles, wreaths, and evergreen trees. Typically, Christmas trees are put up after Sinterklaas, signaling the start of the Christmas season. These festive decorations create a warm and inviting atmosphere in Dutch homes, bringing families together and fostering a sense of unity during the holiday season.

The Dutch have a unique Christmas decoration: kerstkransjes. These are wreath-shaped almond cookies, tied with a ribbon and hung on the Christmas tree. These charming and edible ornaments add a delightful touch to Dutch Christmas trees, making them stand out from the typical festive decorations found in other countries.

Traditional Dutch Christmas Cuisine

Dutch Raclette Table Filled With Ingredients For A Celebratory Evening Like Christmas
Dutch Raclette Table Filled With Ingredients For A Celebratory Evening Like Christmas

Christmas food in the Netherlands is a delectable blend of unique dishes and sweet treats that add a touch of indulgence to festive celebrations. From the communal dining experience of gourmetten to delightful desserts like almond paste bread and stollen, a Dutch Christmas feast is sure to impress and satisfy.

To truly immerse yourself in the Dutch Christmas culinary experience, let’s explore some of the most popular and mouthwatering dishes and sweets that grace Dutch tables during the festive season.

Gourmetten: A Dutch Dining Experience

Gourmetten is a Dutch Christmas dining experience that emphasizes communal and interactive meal preparation, allowing families to bond over delicious food. This unique dining tradition involves cooking food on a small electric grill or pan at the table, with each diner using their own mini pan to cook their choice of meat or vegetables. The result is a fun and engaging meal that encourages conversation and connection among family members.

This festive dining experience is a perfect example of the emphasis on quality time and togetherness in Dutch Christmas celebrations. Gourmetten not only allows for the enjoyment of delicious food, but also fosters a sense of unity and bonding among family members, making it a cherished tradition in the Netherlands.

Sweet Treats and Festive Fare

Dutch Christmas sweets are an essential part of the festive season, with various traditional treats gracing the tables of Dutch families. Among these delightful desserts are kerststol, a rich almond paste bread, letter cakes shaped like the first letter of each family member’s name, and currant buns and stollen, fruit-filled breads that are popular during the holiday season.

These sweet treats, along with other festive dishes, make Dutch Christmas cuisine truly special and memorable. The combination of unique flavors and rich textures adds an extra layer of indulgence to the festive celebrations, making the holiday season even more enjoyable for everyone involved.

Music and Entertainment During Dutch Christmas

Leiden Christmas Market
Leiden Christmas Market

Music and entertainment play a significant role in Christmas in the Netherlands, with popular songs and unique customs adding to the festive atmosphere. From well-known Dutch Christmas songs like Flappie and Eenzame Kerst to the intriguing custom of mid-winter horn blowing, the Netherlands offers a rich and diverse array of musical and entertainment traditions that set their Christmas celebrations apart.

Let’s delve deeper into the world of Dutch Christmas music and entertainment, exploring the popular songs and unique customs that make the holiday season even more magical.

Popular Dutch Christmas Songs

Dutch Christmas songs are an essential part of the festive season, with classics like Flappie and Eenzame Kerst resonating with both young and old. Flappie, written by Dutch comedian Youp van ‘t Hek, tells the humorous and somewhat dark story of a boy searching for his lost rabbit, only to discover it served for Christmas dinner. These popular songs create a festive atmosphere in Dutch homes, with families gathering around to sing and enjoy the music together.

In addition to Flappie and Eenzame Kerst, other popular Dutch Christmas songs include ‘Kling klokje klingelingeling,’ ‘Als De Eerste Sneeuw Valt,’ and ‘Sinterklaas, Kapoentje’. These melodic and heartwarming tunes are a testament to the importance of music and entertainment in Dutch Christmas traditions, bringing joy and cheer to the holiday season. One such beloved Dutch christmas song is ‘Kling klokje klingelingeling,’ which perfectly captures the festive spirit.

Mid-Winter Horn Blowing

Mid-winter horn blowing is a unique and intriguing rural tradition in the eastern Netherlands, announcing the coming of Christ during Advent. Handmade and carefully carved from birch or elder saplings, mid-winter horns produce a deep, sorrowful sound that echoes across the countryside. Many parts of the world use horns to mark the beginning of Advent. This serves as a symbol of spiritual celebration and joy for the birth of Christ.

This captivating custom adds a fascinating dimension to Christmas in the Netherlands, showcasing the rich cultural heritage and diverse entertainment traditions of the Netherlands. The haunting and beautiful sound of the mid-winter horns serves as a stark reminder of the solemnity and significance of the Advent season, creating a truly unforgettable experience.

Family and Togetherness in Dutch Christmas Celebrations

Stollen Christmas Cake
Stollen Christmas Cake

Central to celebrating Dutch Christmas traditions is the importance of family and togetherness. With a focus on quality time and visiting relatives, Dutch families come together to share festive meals, exchange gifts, and create lasting memories. The emphasis on family and togetherness is evident in various Dutch Christmas customs, from the communal dining experience of gourmetten to the cherished tradition of singing carols and playing games together.

To further explore the significance of family and togetherness in Dutch Christmas celebrations, let’s examine how these values are woven into the fabric of the holiday season.

Focus on Quality Time

During Dutch Christmas celebrations, families prioritize spending quality time together, fostering a sense of unity and warmth during the holiday season. Activities such as playing games, watching movies, reading Christmas tales, and enjoying holiday feasts bring families closer, creating an environment of love and bonding.

This focus on quality time is a reflection of the Dutch people’s values and priorities, emphasizing the importance of family and togetherness in their festive celebrations. The warmth and affection shared during these gatherings create lasting memories and strengthen the bonds between family members, making Dutch Christmas a truly special and meaningful time of year.

Visiting Relatives and Friends

On December 26, or Tweede Kerstdag, Dutch families dedicate time to visiting extended family and friends for family gatherings, further emphasizing the importance of togetherness during the holiday season. These visits often involve spending quality time together, exchanging gifts, and enjoying delicious meals.

This tradition of visiting relatives and friends on the second day of Christmas highlights the value placed on maintaining close relationships and cherishing the time spent with loved ones. It reinforces the central theme of family and togetherness, making Dutch Christmas celebrations a heartwarming and memorable experience for all, filled with holiday traditions.

Dutch Christmas Markets and Events

Sinterklaas Hanging On A Rope From A Tree Branch At The 2019 Christmas Market In Maastricht Netherlands
Sinterklaas Hanging On A Rope From A Tree Branch At The Christmas Market In Maastricht Netherlands

Throughout December, Dutch Christmas markets and events offer festive shopping and activities for the whole family. From the charming Christmas markets in Maastricht, Valkenburg, and Amsterdam to the captivating Sinterklaas parades and ice-skating rinks, the Netherlands provides a wealth of options for those seeking a truly magical holiday experience.

Join us as we explore some of the most popular Dutch Christmas markets and events, complete with unique sights, sounds, and tastes that are sure to enchant and delight.

Popular Christmas Markets

Some of the most well-known Christmas markets in the Netherlands can be found in Maastricht, Valkenburg, and Amsterdam, offering visitors a festive shopping experience and an opportunity to indulge in traditional Dutch treats like oliebollen, poffertjes, and stroopwafels. These markets also showcase a variety of handmade crafts and decorations, perfect for adding a touch of Dutch Christmas charm to your home.

Strolling through these enchanting markets, visitors can immerse themselves in the festive atmosphere, discovering unique gifts, and enjoying the delightful sights, sounds, and aromas of a Dutch Christmas.

December Events and Activities

In addition to the charming Christmas markets, Christmas in the Netherlands hosts a variety of events and activities throughout December, such as Sinterklaas parades, ice-skating rinks, and holiday-themed performances. These events offer visitors an opportunity to experience the magic of Dutch Christmas firsthand, creating unforgettable memories for the whole family.

From the captivating performances at the Winter Efteling and the Dickens Festival to the enchanting Amsterdam Light Festival, there is no shortage of festive events and activities to enjoy during the holiday season in the Netherlands.


In conclusion, Christmas in the Netherlands offers a unique and heartwarming experience, marked by distinct traditions, festive cuisine, and a strong emphasis on family and togetherness. From the arrival of Sinterklaas to the enchanting Christmas markets and events, the Netherlands provides a magical backdrop for the holiday season. So why not consider experiencing the charm and warmth of a Dutch Christmas for yourself? It’s sure to create memories that will last a lifetime.

Frequently Asked Questions about Christmas in the Netherlands

What are the Netherlands 3 Christmas traditions?

In the Netherlands, Christmas traditions include Sinterklaas Avond on December 5th, midwinter hoornblaazen, and special celebrations on both Christmas Day and Second Christmas Day. These occasions involve gift-giving, spending time with family, playing games, watching movies and eating traditional food.

What is the Netherlands Christmas called?

Sinterklaas is the Netherlands’ version of Christmas, where families and friends exchange presents and children receive sacks of gifts from Sinterklaas and his helpers.

Why do the Dutch have 2 Christmas days?

The Dutch have two Christmas days because the church wanted people to come to church for two days, like with Easter and Pentecost, and they managed to preserve the second day even when it was almost lost.

This was done to ensure that people would attend church services on both days, just as they do for Easter and Pentecost. Despite the fact that the second day was almost lost, the Dutch managed to keep it alive.

What is the difference between Christmas and Sinterklaas and in the Netherlands?

Sinterklaas and Christmas are distinct celebrations in the Netherlands; Sinterklaas has a gift-giving tradition separate from Christmas.

The two holidays have different origins and are celebrated differently. Sinterklaas is celebrated on December 5th and is based on the legend of Saint Nicholas, while Christmas is celebrated on December 25th and is based on the Christian faith.

What are some traditional Dutch Christmas foods?

Enjoying a festive meal together is a beloved Dutch Christmas tradition, and the menu typically features gourmetten, venison or roast goose, pork, homemade breads and other delicious treats.

What do the Dutch call Santa Claus?

In the Netherlands, Santa Claus is called “Sinterklaas.”

Dutch Speculaas Cookies Recipe
Dutch Speculaas cookies are a holiday treat known for their spiced flavor and intricate designs. These crunchy delights, often shaped into festive images, are a cherished part of Dutch holiday traditions, especially during the Sinterklaas celebration. Enjoy the warm blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves in every bite, as these cookies bring a touch of the Netherlands' holiday spirit to your taste buds.
Check out this Dutch Recipe
Dutch Speculaas Cookies Recipe