Christmas in the Netherlands is two days, not one, called "First-" and "Second Christmas Day." They have equal importance, though church services are only on "First Christmas Day" (25th December) and Christmas Eve. This means that you can see your family on one day and your in-laws on the other day. The same happens at Easter and Pentecost.
|Emma and Ronald|
The main difference between Dutch and English Christmas is gift-giving. In the Netherlands, gifts are traditionally exchanged on Sinterklaas, the evening of 5th December. A gift is accompanied by a personalised rhyming poem, and it is traditionally wrapped to look as if it is something else. The focus is on children, but adults exchange gifts as well, generally as a "secret santa" so that, within a family, you only have to buy a gift and write a poem for one other family member.
Sinterklaas, or "Sint Niklaas" - Saint Nicolas, is the basis of our Father Christmas. Apparently, when the Dutch and English lived in the US, the English became jealous of the Sinterklaas tradition, and so Father Christmas, or "Santa Claus" (sounds like "Sint Niklaas") was created.
All this means that the Dutch Christmas does not centre around gift-giving or Father Christmas, since all this happens earlier in the month. This leaves Christmas free to be a pleasant holiday with an optional religious element, and a strong focus on family.
There is no traditional Christmas dinner: indeed, "Christmas Dinner" to the Dutch generally means English turkey roast. However, there are some typical dishes. In strictly-puritan Katwijk, they eat pork filet in a creamy sauce. Many families eat game, in particular jugged-hare. A more recent tradition is "gourmetten," where you sit at the table with a special grill pan and grill your own meat and fish. (I'm not sure what this is called in English, but I've seen the sets for sale in Lidl so we must have it). In general, the aim is to sit at the table together as long as possible, so meals tend to consist of several small, luxurious courses and not one huge roast.
Although there are no set menus, there are some traditional Christmas sweets. There are little chocolate wreaths, sprinkled with hundreds and thousands and filled with fondant, chocolate holly leaves, and "Duivekater," a sweet white bread which resembles brioche.
|Emma and myself rehearsing in Leiden October 2104|
For me, as an English girl living in Holland, Christmas seemed a bit of an anticlimax at first. However, I have come to enjoy it and even prefer it. There is no last-minute shopping, no fighting for the turkeys in the supermarket, no manic gift-buying and wrapping, no compulsory over-eating and drinking... It is more like the English Easter: a quiet day off.
And what did I cook for my in-laws? Since they're not strict puritans, I chose game.
We had five small courses:
-Butternut squash and ginger soup with sesame oil
-Scallops wrapped in parma ham with a crystal ginger glaze
-Mango and passion fruit sorbet in limoncello
-Venison casseroled with cranberries and chestnuts (see link) with gratin potatoes and green asparagus
-Lemon posset (see link) with raspberries and gingerbread
They left at around 22:00 and Ronald and I went for a short walk. The streets were quiet, and through the uncurtained windows we could see families sitting round tables in various stages of their meals. It was very cosy.
I would like you to think that it was a calm, quiet family Christmas. But that would be a little lie. For there was one chaotic element: my five-month old kitten. She wanted to try everything. She even stole a raw scallop which we extracted from her and threw away. And, poor thing, when she tried to explore on the table itself, she singed her whiskers in a candle flame before we could grab her.
Still, it was a wonderful day, and I would really recommend Christmas in Holland. Lots of love xx M and Ronald.