THU 07 DEC 2017
For international students, the Christmas season in the Netherlands might be something new. Understanding the culture of your host country is an important step towards fostering understanding and broadening your horizons. ONCAMPUS Amsterdam would like to introduce you to Christmas in the Netherlands and how you can enjoy the various festivities during this season.
The History of Christmas
Christmas is an important religious holiday for countries that have a big Christian population. It celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem and is observed on December 25. The holiday has a lot of cultural and social importance and for many, is a time to come together as a family.
The Dutch Christmas traditions
Every culture has its own Christmas traditions and this is true in the Netherlands as well. The first celebration is the Sinterklaas Avond or Santa Claus Eve, which takes place on the night of December 5. This is the main gift-giving occasion, when Santa Claus travels to every home to leave small gifts for children – traditionally, children leave out shoes filled with carrots, hay, and sugar for Santa Claus’ horses and he replaces these with gifts.
The Dutch Santa Claus is believed to live in Spain and he travels to the Netherlands by boat and port cities, such as Amsterdam, usually have big celebrations and parades to mark his arrival. Santa Claus also travels with Zwarte Piet or Black Peter, who is dressed in 16th century Spanish clothes and has a face covered in soot.
Generally, December 25 (First Christmas Day) and 26 (Second Christmas Day) are holidays in the Netherlands – compared to December 24 and 25 in most other countries. Usually these days are spent with family, going to church services, concerts, and cooking family meals. The midnight church services on December 24 are most popular.
Where to go in Amsterdam during Christmas
Christmas is a wonderful season to be in Amsterdam. The Christmas celebrations start with lighting up the city. All over the city, buildings, sculptures, roads, and much more are adorned with lights – known as the Amsterdam Light Festival. The lighting up of the city starts around mid-November and runs until mid-January and can be best viewed from the canal or the Amstel River.
Not to be missed is the Christmas Market at the Museumplein or Museum Square. From December 17 until 30, this square is transformed into a Christmas wonderland, with an ice skating rink, food stalls, and stalls selling handcrafts. This is a great place to buy Christmas presents and try some of the special Christmas foods, such as Kerstkrans (wreath-shaped pasty filled with almond paste), Kerststol (Christmas fruit cake), Oliebollen (donuts), Poffertjes (light pancakes), Speculaas (cinnamon ginger cookies) and much more!
You should beware of Christmas shopping hours. Most shops will be open longer than usual during the holiday season, but most shops and restaurants will be closed on December 25 and will re-open again on December 26. Not to be missed during this season is the big Christmas tree on Dam Square!