Cats, kings and the American dream: 12 great things to do in December

Christmas lights in Maastricht. Photo: Kleon3 via Wikimedia Commons

Not everything on the calendar for December is about Sinterklaas and Santa Claus but inevitably lots of events at this time of year are Christmas-themed.  We’ve got top notch theatre, ice sculptures, cat karaoke and the American dream in our latest listing.

Savour some savoir-faire
If you haven’t bought a single present yet and are not short of a euro or two why not visit the Westergasfabriek in Amsterdam for inspiration. Meesterlijk is a three day extravaganza of ‘style, specialisms and savoir-faire’. This is an event all about designer goods and handcrafted stuff. It’s also a ‘recyclable total concept’ which we think might be a good thing. December 1,2,3. Website

Slide on the ice
Scheveningen is not only the scene of the traditonal new year’s plunge (see further down) it also has another icy surprise in store: the Ice EXPO, featuring a multitude of ice sculptures inspired by Scheveningen’s glorious past as a watering hole for the Den Haag posh and the not so posh. Next door is a 30 metre long ice slide. Until January 21. Website

Feel the Hidden Force – surtitled in English
In recent years Toneelgroep Amsterdam has staged three novels by Dutch novelist Louis Couperus. The Hidden Force is the last in a trilogy and Ivo van Hove directs the steamy story of an unfaithful wife and mysterious goings-on in the Dutch East Indies. From December 9 to December 22. The performance will be surtitled on Thursdays. Website

..and have a Shakespearean cocktail -also surtitled in English

Kings of War. Photo: Jan Versweyveld

It’s three plays by Shakespeare for the price of one courtesy of Toneelgroep Amsterdam, once again directed by Ivo van Hove. Kings of War combines Henry V, Henry VI and Richard III into a single play about leadership then and now.  From December 15 to 22. Surtitled on Thursday 21. For info and tickets go to the Stadsschouwburg website.

Christmas markets and concerts
If your tree is still short a bauble or two or if you are in the mood for a heartening glass of glühwein to get you through the Christmas cheer there are a number of Christmas markets that will have plenty of both on offer. For dates and places, go to this website. Christmas concerts will be on pretty much throughout the month in draughty churches throughout the land, so bring a hipflask to ward off the cold. You can find your concert and tickets here.

See how the aristocrats celebrated Christmas
More seasonal jollity but of a more ‘Little Match Girl’ kind at Slot Zuylen near Utrecht where commoners are invited to gape at how the other half celebrated Christmas in times gone by. There’s a tour of the castle and hot chocolate at the end. December 28, 29 and 30. For info and tickets go to the website

See the light
The Festival of Light is working its magic on the old centre of Amsterdam for another edition, with luminous artworks specially made for each location by 35 artists from all over the world including Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. Either walk the route or book a boat trip. Website

Caterwaul with the cats

Photo: Brandon Hartley

For people who have seen all 348 trillion Youtube cat videos but still can’t get enough there is the exhibition Cat love, nine lives in the arts. Apart from depictions of dignified cats, ordinary cats and mad cats from the mid-19th century on, ‘visitors can participate in a crash course in ‘doing nothing’ and make their voices heard during meow karaoke’. Yes, really. On until January 14 in the Kunsthal Rotterdam. Website

Follow the American dream
The Drents Museum and the Kunsthalle Emden in Germany are presenting Europe’s biggest exhibition so far of American Realism from 1945 to the present. Works by Edward Hopper, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Chuck Close and many more shed a light on American art and culture. The American Dream is on until May 27. Website

Beat the Christmas bloat
The best way to overcome the excesses of the Christmas festivities is to force the family to take a bracing walk along the beach. Pop into the Beelden aan Zee museum in Scheveningen to take in a few non-challenging Picassos while you’re at it: it’s open on December 26. There’s a workshop for children in case you need to nurse your headache in peace. Website

Find the Fireworks

New Year fireworks in Amsterdam. Photo: Depositphotos.com

There are fireworks galore of course on New Year’s Eve. Amsterdam‘s Scheepvaart Museum at the Oosterdok forms the backdrop for the countdown in Amsterdam while in The Hague the action is at the Hofvijver. Rotterdam sees in the New Year with a spectacular fireworks show at the Erasmusbrug.

Take the plunge
It’s not strictly a December thing but it’s near enough and you may need the time to mentally prepare: January 1 is when quite a lot of people line up on the beach at Scheveningen to take part in the traditional New Year’s Day plunge into a very cold North Sea. You actually have to pay €3 for the privilege of freezing to death (although you get a not very useful woolly hat from the sponsor). You must register on the spot from 10.30am. 10,000 people is the maximum number of divers. Website

To be forewarned is to have a ticket
The early bird gets the worm so if you’re a fan of comedian and Comedy Central presenter Trevor Noah make sure you get your ticket for a one-off performance on May 20 at Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam. Website