In the Netherlands, children usually don’t receive their presents during Christmas, but on December 5th during St. Nicholas’ Eve, or Sinterklaas. According to legend, St. Nicholas rides a white horse over the roofs, accompanied by one of his helpers. This helper named “Black Pete” enters the house through the chimney to leave presents in shoes children have left in front of the fireplace. The shoes contain hay and a carrot for Sinterklaas’ horse.
Sweet treats are popular gifts. Kids may get a chocolate letter (you usually receive the initial of your first name) or Marzipan, a sweet similar to almond paste that is often molded into various brightly colored shapes, such as fruits, animals or Sinterklaas and his helpers. Another traditional Sinterklaas treat is speculaas, a tasty biscuit spiced with pepper, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and nutmeg. It comes is various shapes, from large dolls in the shape of Sinterklaas to tiny round shaped cookies called kruidnoten.
Children usually make a wish list ahead of time, so Sinterklaas knows what they want to have. For a lot of Dutch children, Sinterklaas is the big gift-giving event of the year, and they usually receive things like toys, games, books and movies. And, at least in my family, it is also an opportunity for parents to stock up on “useful gifts” like pajamas, socks and scarfs.
As a general rule of thumb, it is appropriate to get a Christmas tree once Sinterklaas has left the country again. Many people decorate Christmas trees and decorate their houses and gardens with Christmas lights, providing some well-needed extra light in a period when days are cold and short.
Typical treats are “kerstkransjes” cookies that have a small hole in the middle, so they can be used to decorate the Christmas tree. These cookies come in many different variations and can be decorated with colorful sprinkles, chocolate or grated peanuts.
In the Netherlands, Christmas lasts for one evening and two days. The 25th of December is called “First Christmas day”, while the 26th is “Second Christmas day.” This makes it easy for couples to split their time during the Christmas celebrations between their respective families.
Many people, even if they’re not very religious, visit a Christmas service on Christmas Eve, followed by two days of bundling up inside, family reunions and lavish meals.
On New Year’s Eve, we traditionally have a pastry called “oliebollen”, fried lumps of dough that are eaten with powdered sugar. They’re very sweet and greasy, but many comfort themselves with the thought it will be their last indulgence before entering the New Year and having to stick to their resolutions.
During the evening, there are live performances on television by stand-up comedians, who reflect on everything that has happened in the past year. After dinner, many people gather around the television to watch this together. When the clock finally strikes midnight, the New Year is welcomed with fireworks.
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