The International Student’s Guide To Dutch Christmas Traditions

As an international student, this might be the first time you experience Dutch Christmas. While there are many Christmas traditions that are similar in more than one place, each country has its own variations and the Netherlands is not an exception. In fact, Dutch Christmas traditions have some particular elements that you should be aware of in this festive season.

So here are 6 key things you should learn about Christmas in the Netherlands.

1. Sinterklaas Avond

Sinterklaas is a Dutch Christmas Tradition

On December 5, people in the Netherlands celebrate Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas) eve.  This is an eve when Sinterklaas visits the homes of every child and leaves them some gifts and treats to enjoy. While Sinterklaas can be considered as the Dutch equivalent of Santa Claus, it has some differences. For instance, Sinterklaas is not a chubby man, he’s rather tall and slim, he wears a dark red robe and a hat that resembles a bishop’s attire. Moreover, he’s accompanied by the controversial Black Peter (Zwarte Piet), his assistant whose face is covered with soot and who's the one going down the chimney to leave gifts for children.

2. Kerstpakket

If you work in a Dutch company, you will most likely receive the annual kerstpakket. This is a Christmas gift box that bosses distribute to their staff shortly before Christmas as a traditional sign of gratification for the hard work performed in the past year. The distribution of kerstpakketten comes from a historical tradition - the gift of food that was given to farm workers to take home to their families for Christmas. Nowadays, working people in the Netherlands still receive gifts from their company, and often those are food baskets.

3. Kerstbomen & Kerstman

Dutch Christmas trees (kerstbomen) appear all over the Netherlands soon after the Sinterklaas eve. People put them up in public spaces and their living rooms and decorate them with lights and ornaments. Furthermore, Dutch also have their own Father Christmas or Santa Claus called Kerstman. In the Netherlands, he is kind of a poor relative to Sinterklaas. Despite the fact that around 50% of Dutch people exchange presents on Christmas, Kerstman is still less popular than Sinterklaas.

As Kerstmas is around the corner, you’ve probably seen the amazing decorations covering the roofs and windows of your neighborhood. Check out Coolblue for interesting light arrangements like this Phillips lightstrip. It’s a simple but festive way to celebrate the holidays!


4. Two days of Dutch Christmas

In the Netherlands, people celebrate Christmas both on the 25th and the 26th of December.  During Dutch Christmas people spend two days with their family, playing games, watching movies and eating some traditional Christmas food. As a matter of fact, to some international students this might seem strange. This is because elsewhere it’s common to spend the 26th at the local shopping malls hunting Boxing Day deals. Why not get the best of both worlds by doing some online Boxing Day sales shopping? Coolblue has an amazing collection of technology and electronics that are sure to be at a great price.


5. Christmas Food

Image of Dutch Christmas Food

What’s Christmas without some delicious food? Dutch Christmas treats are perfect for those who love sweets as they traditionally consist of such ingredients as spices, dried fruits, sugar, almonds and white flour. Some of the typical treats are:

  • Kruidnoten - ginger nuts
  • Kerstkransjes – 'wreath cookies' (used also to decorate the Christmas tree)
  • Kerststol – a fruited Dutch Christmas loaf
  • Speculaas - spiced biscuits
  • Appelbeignets – Dutch apple fritters
  • Advocaat - egg-yolk liqueur
  • Bischopswijn – Dutch mulled wine

6. Dutch Christmas songs

Music has an important role in Dutch Christmas traditions. As an international student most likely you’ve noticed that Dutch Christmas songs are played on the radio, in the shopping malls and Christmas markets. Among others, you’ll hear such traditional Dutch Christmas songs as Sinterklaas, Goed Heilig Man (Saint Nicholas, Good Holy Man), Hoor de Wind Waait de Bomen (The wind keeps blowing), Hoor Wie Stapt Daar Kinderen (Someone is coming, children). If you're ambitious enough to learn a Dutch Christmas song yourself, visit this site for English translations.

Have a very Vrolijk Kersfeest!

Have you noticed an interesting Dutch Christmas tradition? Connect with us and tell about it!

Showing 4 comments
  • Carolyn Curran- Vasseur

    Very interesting. I wish I could experience it as it’s not so commercialized as it is here in the USA

  • Cathy Wilson

    Great information on this that I am using to teach about The Netherlands at our children’s Christmas Around The World Event at church.

  • Unidentifiable

    This is helpful to my project thank you.

    • Kristian

      You’re welcome!

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