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.

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1. Sinterklaas Avond

Sinterklaas is a Dutch Christmas Tradition

Important: Although Sinterklaas isn't a Christmas celebration, it is worth mentioning due to the nature of this tradition which marks the beginning of the winter holidays.  

Sinterklaas is a children's festivity in the Netherlands that has been celebrated for over 300 years. On December 5, Saint Nicholas (Sinterklaas) is said to come by steamboat from Spain. That is when Sinterklaas visits the homes of every child and leaves them some gifts and treats to enjoy. 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.

Isn't Sinterklaas another name for Santa Claus?

No. The origins of Sinterklaas predate the anglicised tradition of Santa Claus. In fact, Santa Claus draws inspiration from various celebrations including Sinterklaas (adopted shortly after the Dutch colonisation of the Americas), Father Christmas and Saint Nicholas. Santa Claus.

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 26 comments
  • Anonymous

    This website helped me.

  • Anomiem

    Dit klopt voor geen pepernoot

  • Scarlet Hirchag

    Loved this article! Could have used more explanation, but loved it.

  • Ava

    this is a good site to find a lot of information thank you this is helpful for my project

  • MJ VanCamp

    thank you I need this for a school project we are learning about Christmas around he world

    • isabelle


  • Bryon

    Very helpful great for use on projects

  • MJ VanCamp

    Thank you. I needed this information for a school project. Thank you again

  • e

    Thank you for this

  • cholhok


    • mashal

      Thanks for reading! 🙂

    • Tommy

      Thank you for reading this. I probably wouldn’t have gotten enough info for my project without it. Thanks again.

  • Alex

    Every article I read about this subject, people seem to think that Sinterklaas is the Dutch equivalent of Santa Claus. Almost no one mentions that it is in fact the other way around. Without the Dutch Sinterklaas, there would likely have not been a Santa Claus.

    Sinter Klaas Comes to New York

    St. Nicholas made his first inroads into American popular culture towards the end of the 18th century. In December 1773, and again in 1774, a New York newspaper reported that groups of Dutch families had gathered to honor the anniversary of his death.

    The name Santa Claus evolved from Nick’s Dutch nickname, Sinter Klaas, a shortened form of Sint Nikolaas (Dutch for Saint Nicholas). In 1804, John Pintard, a member of the New York Historical Society, distributed woodcuts of St. Nicholas at the society’s annual meeting. The background of the engraving contains now-familiar Santa images including stockings filled with toys and fruit hung over a fireplace. In 1809, Washington Irving helped to popularize the Sinter Klaas stories when he referred to St. Nicholas as the patron saint of New York in his book, The History of New York. As his prominence grew, Sinter Klaas was described as everything from a “rascal” with a blue three-cornered hat, red waistcoat, and yellow stockings to a man wearing a broad-brimmed hat and a “huge pair of Flemish trunk hose.”

    • farah

      Hi Alex,

      Thank you for the remarks and detailed explanation on the history of Sinterklaas. It’s a very good point for people to discuss on!

    • Scarlet Hirchag

      That is very true, and I wish this would be updated accordingly.

  • ruby wilson

    great! i need this for a prodject

    • Kristian

      That’s great! Happy to hear that.

    • ilana

      me 2!!!

  • Martina

    It’s such a good reminder of a time when I was in Nederland as a very little girl. I lost my mama this year and my Dutch heritage means more than ever. I miss much of such a cultured areas as we immigrated to Canada many years ago. I have deep hearted ties to there and have soft thoughts to a magical place in the world. Thank you for your posting. It was nice to read…. Martina

    • Kristian

      Thank you for sharing this with us Martina, hope that you enjoyed the article and Merry Christmas 🙂

  • Jeff Kohn

    I was always curious as to the Celebration of Christmas in the Netherlands.
    My Dutch friend Jan, has told me that they celebrate the Holiday season starting from
    December 05th. After reading this great information provided, I have a better understanding.
    Thank you from Hawaii where we say: “Mele Kalikimaka” Merry Christmas!

    • Kristian

      Vrolijk Kerstfeest, Jeff!

  • Unidentifiable

    This is helpful to my project thank you.

    • Kristian

      You’re welcome!

  • 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.

  • Carolyn Curran- Vasseur

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

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