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Kerst: How do the Dutch celebrate Christmas?  

There's only one day left until Christmas. I’m sure you’re just as excited as I am to put a brief pause on all things studying. Let’s be real, we deserve a break, especially considering the year we’ve gone through.  

Every country and family within it has its own Christmas traditions. For example, Americans hide a Christmas pickle in their tree for their family members to find, while South Africans gather their loved ones for a celebratory cookout or braaing. As an international student, it can be difficult to truly understand local customs, even if you may have heard of some of them. To spread some Christmas cheer, we’ve outlined exactly how the Dutch celebrate Christmas.  

A tale of two Santas  

Well, I know you’ve heard of Sinterklaas. You’d have to be living under a rock if you haven’t yet heard of the bearded, old Saint Nicolas who arrives in a Dutch city by boat every year, dragging along his controversial helper Piet. This year’s Sinterklaas celebration has already passed, and Dutch families celebrated his arrival on the 5th of December. 

Though it can often seem like Sinterklaas is the main event in the month of December, the truth is that good ol’ Santa, or Kerstman, is also beloved in the Netherlands. Street decorations and extravagant Christmas trees, or Kerstbomen, are put up in all major Dutch cities, and people flock to the busy shopping streets to do their last-minute gift shopping. Rumor is that Kerstman is less popular than Sinterklaas, but that doesn’t stop the majority of people exchanging presents on Christmas day.  

Two days of joy  

In the Netherlands, all the action happens on the 25th and 26th of December, or the first and second day of Christmas. This is different from several other European countries, where the 24th is the star of the show. The priority for many Dutch families is to spend these days together by singing carols, eating holiday dishes and watching movies together. The biblical story surrounding Christmas is less important, although many Dutch people still enjoy going to church on Christmas Eve.  

Feast like the Dutch

Sweets are an important element in spreading Christmas cheer in the Netherlands. After all, our taste buds need to be happy too. You’ve probably spotted the stands in the street selling Oliebollen, a type of deep-fried donut. Kerststol, a type of round loaf with dried fruits inside, is also enjoyed in many households. The actual Christmas dinners usually include a type of meat, such as venison, goose, hare or turkey accompanied by different types of vegetables. Some families may also organize gourmetten, which is a type of hot plate that grills everyone’s food in individual mini pans.   

Hopefully, you enjoyed gaining a little insight into how Christmas is done in the Netherlands. Maybe you’ll consider adopting a few of these traditions into your own customs, even if it only includes grabbing an Oliebollen next time you hop on a train. And if you’re looking for a great Christmas present for yourself, consider grabbing the Student Mobility Card so that you can discover the whole of the Netherlands for 15% cheaper.  

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