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A Local’s Guide To Christmas In The Netherlands: Dutch Christmas Traditions, Celebrations And Gifts

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Find everything you need to know about celebrating Christmas in The Netherlands, Holland and Amsterdam in this local guide.

In this complete guide to Christmas in The Netherlands, you will discover everything you need to know from a born and raised Dutch local. This includes Dutch Christmas decorations, Dutch Christmas songs, Dutch Christmas gifts, how to say Merry Christmas in Holland & The Netherlands and plenty of more.

You will also learn about the Netherlands Christmas traditions and decorations, As well as the difference between Santa Claus and St. Nicholas. And from Dutch Christmas songs to discover what to do during Christmas in The Netherlands. A Dutch Christmas is filled with typical Dutch ‘gezelligheid‘ (cosiness and fun times x 15) that’s why it’s about time that you will figure out the Amsterdam, Holland & The Netherlands Christmas traditions and decorations. And why a Christmas day in both Holland and The Netherlands, is unlike any other.

Spoiler: It might have to do something with gourmetten and All You Need Is Love.

Everything you need to know about celebrating Christmas in The Netherlands: From Dutch Christmas traditions to treats and food

Note: Sinterklaas is not the same holiday like Christmas in The Netherlands. Sinterklaas and Santa Claus are also not the same. So if you’re visiting The Netherlands during Christmas, you won’t be able to celebrate Saint Nicholas, or Sinterklaas in Dutch, as that is celebrated on the 5th of December. We don’t have special Dutch Christmas candy, but we do have candies and cookies for Sinterklaas, such as kruidnoten (spiced cookies), foam sweets and marzipan.

Discover everything from when is Christmas in The Netherlands to Christmas food in The Netherlands and pictures. Christmas in The Netherlands is one of my favourite times of the year with many beautiful Christmas lights, illuminated bridges and trees. Most of The Netherlands doesn’t go over the top with Christmas lights; we prefer the beautiful, modern lights. Some Dutch people give presents during Christmas; however, it is not something we traditionally do.

Best Christmas markets of The Netherlands | Cave Christmas market of Valkenburg | Best things to do in Valkenburg The Netherlands

Christmas dates in The Netherlands

In The Netherlands, we celebrate three days of Christmas, which might seem odd to visitors. We celebrate Christmas Eve, First Christmas Day and Second Christmas Day. Below you will discover the exact Dutch Christmas date and  holiday traditions. As well as more The Netherlands Christmas traditions and celebrations both in Holland and the rest of the country. 

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve in The Netherlands is celebrated on the 24th of December. There are several activities that Dutch people do during Christmas Eve, but one of the countries favourite things to do is watch a television show called ‘All You Need Is Love’. During this program, our very own mister Love, or Robert Ten Brink, hosts a show where he reunites loved ones from all over the world so they can celebrate this year Christmas together in The Netherlands.

It’s also during that time that we stuff ourselves with snacks and finger food until we all get emotional because of having both a food baby and so much joy. I just like to see people being happy and Christmas time is one of those extra special moments where everything is about the people you love.

But, there’s more to celebrating Christmas Eve in The Netherlands than watching the best romantic show of the year. Many people either host or go to, Christmas Eve Dinners that are mostly celebrated with good friends. Usually, the First and Second Christmas Day in The Netherlands are reserved for family members. Except for the late evening of Second Christmas Day, but more about that can be found below.

First Christmas Day

First Christmas Day is the most special day of Christmas in The Netherlands and celebrated on the 25th of December. The Netherlands slowly comes to a standstill on this day of the year. Be prepared with the particular public transportation schedule which you both can see at ns.nl/en and 9292.ov/en, so plan your trip. Most shops and museums are closed during First Christmas Day in The Netherlands.

The First Christmas Day traditions in The Netherlands depend on the family, as everyone celebrates it slightly differently. However, this first day is usually reserved for family members only. Some have a Christmas breakfast and/ or lunch; others don’t do this kind of things. But during the evening people are having a Christmas dinner, or we go ‘gourmetten’. With gourmetten, everyone has its little stove that is put on the table where everyone prepares their meal — more about that in the traditional Dutch Christmas food section below.

We are dressed up fancy and have no tradition of wearing something like ugly Christmas sweaters. Some people might do this, but in general, most people dress up kind of fancy. With that I mean; dress, blouses, lovely trousers, etc.

Second Christmas Day

Second Christmas Day in The Netherlands is celebrated on the 26th of December. A lot of shops and museums are still closed on Second Christmas Day in The Netherlands, but it depends on the specific museum, so always check it to be entirely sure.

I would recommend you to walk through any of the places you’re planning on visiting during Christmas in The Netherlands in the morning of the Second Christmas day as the streets are mostly empty. A reason why you don’t find many people on the street is that many use this day to go outside. People go to nature reserves, or the beaches, in The Netherlands to enjoy the fresh air. But also to get a little movement out of their bodies after overeating.

On this Christmas day in The Netherlands, a lot of people have a big breakfast and/or lunch with friends or family; then in the evening, they will have another round of Christmas dinner with different people than the day before.

After the last Dutch Christmas dinner of the year, many people tend to party their Christmas calories off during one of the many Christmas parties that can be found in every small town and city in The Netherlands. But, many of the exclusive parties are sold out weeks in advance. However, most bars are opened on the Second Day of Christmas in The Netherlands, so you can definitely bust some moves yourself if you are feeling it.

Traditional, Dutch Christmas food

Traditional Dutch Christmas food in The Netherlands is divided into two parts. One of these is a sort of traditional Dutch Christmas dinner, and the other is gourmetten. The Dutch Christmas celebrations are different than in most countries. Discover some more The Netherlands Christmas customs below.

The United Kingdom partly influences the Netherlands Christmas food. As by the end of the 16th century, wealthy people especially started to held big Christmas banquets for friends, family and other people they knew. At that time, mainly sweets were served as people believed sugar had medicinal powers and was an expensive product (very different from nowadays when sugar is in so many things).

In the centuries after those sweets were mainly served as desserts and the Dutch Christmas dinners started to look at what it is nowadays. Think of a meat dish, example roast beef, ham etc., and vegetables and potatoes. Turkey is not that popular in The Netherlands as it used to be, but some people still eat it.

There are many examples of typical Dutch Christmas food, so I will tell you about a couple of them. We have a traditional bread that is filled with raisins and sugar called Kerststol. This is what people eat during the Dutch Christmas breakfast or lunch, and it’s one of my favourite Dutch Christmas treats. Don’t forget to put on loads of butter on top. It’s a necessity.

Now I will give you some examples of a typical and traditional Dutch Christmas dinner. Stoofpeertjes, or steamed pears. These pears are cooked in red wine, sugar, cinnamon, lemon, cloves and bay leaves. And trust me when I say that these bad boys are my favourite part of Christmas. Or well, one of them. If you search ‘stoofpeertjes recept’, then you will find some of the best Christmas recipes in The Netherlands.

Up next we have our famous, garnalen cocktail, Dutch shrimp cocktail with Dutch shrimps and a nice sauce. It’s one of the great Christmas traditions in The Netherlands, and it cannot miss during Dutch celebrations.

Meat such as roast beef, deer and tenderloin is also very popular. As well as stews with deer, rabbit or wild boar. These examples all belong to the traditional dinner during Christmas in The Netherlands. Something else that is also traditional is gourmetten.

Gourmetten is the word for the activity of making your meal in your own, little stove on the table. People put fish, meat and/or vegetables in their stoves and enjoy their meals with Dutch potato salads, salad, other vegetables, sauces and other salads. Not only is this very easy, but it’s enjoyable as well. Not to mention that you won’t have the stress of cooking something that everyone would like as everyone enjoys this Dutch Xmas food.

Christmas activities and traditions in The Netherlands: Things to know

We have quite some Christmas events in The Netherlands, as well as Christmas songs and carols. But beyond these standard things, I will tell you exactly how a Christmas holiday in The Netherlands is celebrated. From Christmas markets in The Netherlands to activities and more facts about Christmas in The Netherlands.

Midwinterhoornblazen

One of the Dutch traditions during Christmas is midwinterhoornblazen and can be found in the Eastern part of The Netherlands. Midwinterhoornblazen, or midwinter horn blowing, is when people blow handmade curved horns from birch or elder saplings that are at least one meter long. The horns produce a sort of low tone that can be heard for kilometres away.

Where midwinterhoornblazen originates from depends on who you ask the question. Some people say that it is related to German festivities and that the horn was blown to help God Odin or Wodan with the hunt on the wolf Fenrir, who will eat the sun, so it stays dark forever. Others think that midwinterhoornblazen was used to create fear for the dark spirits. And some people say that it refers to a Catholic tradition of when Christus was born.

But one sure thing is that the midwinterhoorn was used for communication. Some used it to tell the farmers to come together and others to warn smugglers for the police near border areas. The midwinterhoorn season in The Netherlands starts on the first day of Advent and finishes after Driekoningen.

Christmas tree in The Netherlands

In The Netherlands you will see Christmas trees in almost every house, it’s one of the oldest Dutch traditions. A Christmas tree can be placed inside ones home after the departure of Sinterklaas on the 6th of December, and you can leave your tree until the 6th of January (Epiphany) in your house. Christmas tree decorations in The Netherlands differ in every family. Some like their trees more filled with ornaments, others prefer it more spread out and calm. But a nativity scene underneath the tree is a must as well as a peak on the Dutch Christmas tree. 

Every year there are Christmas trees fires, where people collect trees and light them up (with the firefighters watching out for them). Children are also going from door to door to collect trees as they get money from the local council for every tree they collect.

Traditional Dutch Christmas carols

There are quite a few Dutch Christmas songs to sing, but we don’t sit – or stand- in front of the television participating with a sing-a-long (if we even have those). However, if you’re a curious person like me, then I will give you a few options on Dutch Christmas carols that you can learn to sing. One about a pine tree, another about a silent night and the last about the middle of a winter night.

Stille nacht/ Silent nightFind the Dutch lyrics and melody here.

Oh dennenboom/ Oh pine tree: Find the Dutch lyrics and melody here.

Midden in de winternacht/ In the middle of a winter nightFind the Dutch lyrics and melody here.

I’ve personally sung all these traditional Dutch Christmas songs, and many more, plenty of times on primary school. So this has been a dive back into memory lane for me.

Sending out Christmas cards

This is one of my favourite things. Sending out Christmas cards is very personal, and it feels nice to see a wall filled with beautiful cards. Unfortunately, I do notice that every year more people either send their Christmas wishes through email or what’s app. In December, there are individual postal stamps which are cheaper, especially for Christmas cards than in the rest of the year.

A Christmas package from work

Many people in The Netherlands are gifted a Christmas package from work. This as a thank you from the company they work at. Sometimes you get a box filled with small presents, such as food or usable gifts. Other times you can choose your own Christmas present from a selection the company made.

Going to church during Christmas in The Netherlands

While around half of the Dutch people are not religious, during Christmas the churches are always filled. Many people follow this Dutch tradition and go with their family to one of the many Christmas religious worship moments, often in the morning.

Dutch Christmas decorations

The traditional Dutch Christmas decorations exist out a Christmas tree, everyday things such as lights on houses, bushes and throughout the house, as well as candles in many places and you will also see poinsettias in many homes. There’s the decorated Christmas tree with the nativity scene and maybe a 

Dutch Christmas markets in The Netherlands

The Netherlands is actually filled with beautiful Christmas markets. Both in Holland, near Amsterdam and in the rest of the country. From Dickens festivals to traditional Dutch Christmas markets and Christmas caves in The Netherlands, there’s truly something for everyone here.

We have many great Dutch Christmas markets for you to visit in The Netherlands and some are even opened on Christmas itself, but for the exact times and dates, you’d have to have a look at their official websites which I link to in the article below.

Best Dutch Christmas markets in The Netherlands

Shops closed in The Netherlands

Most shops, museums, attractions in The Netherlands close early on Christmas Eve and are completely closed on First Christmas Day. On Second Christmas Day, quite a few shops and museums will open their doors but will also have a different opening and closing time. If you head to bigger cities, more things are opened there than in small towns.

The traditional Christmas drive in The Netherlands

A ‘sterrit’, star drive= Christmas drive, is a typical Dutch tradition and game. During this drive, people are together in a car and have to follow a route that was thought of by an organisation. The only way you can finish the journey and track the right path is by solving puzzles and following the correct hints. If you miss a clue, you will miss a part of the puzzle and will drive the wrong route.

Improve your Dutch Christmas wishes

In this part, you will learn everything from how to say Merry Christmas in Dutch to other Dutch Christmas greetings. And from learning how to say Happy Christmas in Dutch to variations for Merry and Happy Christmas.

Kerst: Christmas.

Kerstavond: Literal translation: Christmas evening.

Eerste Kerstdag: Literal translation: First Christmas Day

Tweede Kerstdag: Literal translation: Second Christmas Day.

Kerstman: Literal translation: Christmas man. See, even the Dutch word for Santa Claus in The Netherlands is nothing like Sinterklaas, so now you are probably more than aware that Sinterklaas celebrations and Christmas celebrations in The Netherlands are not the same, nor relate to each other. They are two separate Dutch holidays.

Cadeaus: Presents.

Kerstboom: Christmas tree.

Kerststal: Literal translation:Christmas shed = Nativity shood.

Learn how to say Merry Christmas in Dutch

Fijne feestdagen: Literal translation: Pleasant holidays.

Prettige Kerst: Literal translation: Nice Christmas.

Zalig Kerstfeest: Literal translation: Merry Christmas party.

Zalig Kerstmis: Literal translation: Merry Christ mass.

Fijne Kerst: Literal translation: Pleasant Christmas.

Vrolijk Kerstfeest: Literal translation: Happy Christmas party.

Fijne dagen:Literal translation: Nice days.

Funnily enough, all these examples can be used to wish Dutch people a Merry Christmas, even though they don’t all translate precisely the way you’d expect.

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I hope that now you know what The Netherlands is like at Christmas time. As well as what Christmas traditions you will find in The Netherlands and what a Dutch Christmas tree sort of looks like. Plus what typical Christmas decorations in The Netherlands are and many other fun facts about Christmas in The Netherlands.

We have several Dutch Christmas stories as well, but translating those will be one hell of a job. So I will leave that to someone else. Remember that every Dutch family celebrates Christmas a little different from the next, which is what makes Christmas even better. Share this post!

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