Christmas Around The World - Netherlands - The British Hamper Company

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Christmas Around The World - Netherlands

21 Nov 2020

Our Christmas journey around the world sees us leave the Christmas celebrations in Montenegro behind and head Northwest for 1,485km to Netherlands

Often wrongly referred to as Holland (that's just a small region of the country made up of 2 provinces), Netherlands is located in Northwest Europe and borders with Belgium to the west, Germany to the east, and has a 451km coastline on the North Sea.

Famous for its windmill, tulips, clogs and much more, Netherlands is really flat so travel by bicycle is very popular. In fact, they have more bicycles (22 million) in Netherlands than they have people (17 million)!

A quarter of the country lays 5m below sea level and is the lowest-lying country in Europe. It's also one of the most densely populated countries in Europe.

The Dutch population are huge fans of liquorice - they eat more of it than any other country.

So, how do they celebrate Christmas in Netherlands?


They celebrate Christmas on 25th December in Netherlands but festivities begin with the feast of St Nicholas.

Religious Influence

Around half of the Netherlands population doesn't follow a religion. The other half is made up of Roman Catholic, Protestant, Muslim and other religions.


Most people will have a Christmas Tree in their house.


Photo by Oleg Magni from Pexels


On the second Saturday of November, the celebrations of St Nicholas’ Day begin with the arrival of Sinterklaas (Santa Claus) in a town or city in the Netherlands (a different harbour every year). He travels with his servants known as ‘Zwarte Pieten’ (‘Black Peters’) and they arrive by steamboat while the local churches ring their bells in celebration. Sinterklaas, dressed in his red robes, then rides a white horse at the head of a procession through the town. Each town will have their own helpers of Sinterklaas who dress the same as him and hand out presents of his behalf. There may also be Zwarte Pieten about. Zwarte Pieten are said to keep a record of which children have been good and bad, and while good children receive presents from Sinterklaas, bad children are put in a sack and taken to Spain for a year by the Zwarte Pieten where they are taught how to behave.

On the same evening that Sinterklaas arrives in the Netherlands, children will leave a shoe by their fireplace or a windowsill and sing a song for Sinterklaas in the hopes he’ll come in the night and leave presents for them. Children may also leave a carrot or hay in their shoes for Sinterklaas’ horse in exchange for some sweets or small presents. Some children believe that these are weekly visits and so leave their shoe out every Saturday until December 5th which is when the main Sinterklaas party takes place.

Big presents are received during the evening of December 5th (St Nicholas’ Eve) where there might be a knock at the door and a sack of presents left on the doorstep. Doing ‘Secret Santa’ is also common, especially at schools, where a poem will hint at who your secret Santa was. Sinterklaas parties are held and attended by most people on the 5th in which there are treasure hunts for children with poems and riddles leading them around to find little presents from Sinterklaas. On 6th December, Sinterklaas leaves the Netherlands on steamboat via the port of Rotterdam.

Many people will attend a Church service on Christmas Day. There may also be a Christmas ‘Sunday School’ during the afternoon of Christmas Day where the Christmas story is told along with some other traditional stories. On the night of Christmas Eve, Dutch children believe that ‘Kerstman’ (Christmas man/Santa) will come to deliver more presents (the main bulk of presents is received on St. Nicholas Eve/Day which is December 5th/6th). On Boxing Day, known as ‘Tweede Kerstdag’, families often get together and many big shops will be open so people may go shopping.


At the Sinterklaas parties, special biscuits and sweets are eaten. One of these special biscuits is ‘banketletter’ (letter cake) which is a ‘biscuit’ made of either marzipan or pastry. They’re called letter cakes because each person gets one shaped like the letter of their first name. ‘Pepernoots’ are also eaten which are made with cinnamon and spice in a pastry-biscuit mix. Dutch Christmas Ring Cake is also popular.

The main meal on Christmas Day is eaten with family in a traditional way called ‘gourmetten’. This is the process by which a little stove is placed on the table and everyone prepares their own meal while seated. 

Our next destination looks at Christmas celebrations in New Zealand.