Celebrate in your home from home: How to go Dutch at Christmas

The count down to Christmas has begun, but according to weather forecast there’s not much chance of a white Christmas this year. So just how do you give your Christmas that extra touch of ‘Dutchness’ while living in the Netherlands?

Here is a list to inspire you, based on some of the ways the Dutch celebrate Christmas at home.

Get a tree
The Dutch love their trees – in fact they love Christmas decorations in general. If you really want to be overwhelmed, check out any garden centre and you will be spoiled, and we do mean spoiled, for choice. Christmas lights tend to be terribly good taste which can come as a shock to the Americans and the British. Give your new home a festive feel with a beautiful paper star in the window.

Go to church
The Nachtmis is the only time lots of people go to church. The midnight mass is usually a jolly affair of Christmas carols and lots of twinkling lights in a heated church (if you’re lucky) followed by a Christmas breakfast with lots of kerststol. The Stadsschouwburg theatre in Amsterdam has an alternative for people who want the experience without the religion.

Prepare for two Christmas Days
The Netherlands celebrates Christmas on both December 25th and December 26th, known as first and second Christmas Day (Eerste Kerstdag and Tweede Kerstdag). Both are statutory public holidays but you will find the shops open on the 26th – and increasingly on the 25th itself. This year, with Christmas Eve (Kerstavond) falling on the Monday, you get an extra long weekend.

Christmas in the Netherlands includes its fair share of food. And while some food items are more traditional than others, it really is an anything goes scenario when it comes to designing the menu. Many Dutch families enjoy gourmetten—an activity similar to the Korean BBQ or Vietnamese hot pot. You’ll use tiny pans and spatulas to cook equally tiny hamburgers, sausages, vegetables, pancakes and other items on a hot griddle.

If you are not going for the self-cooking option, the main meal can be anything from venison to mussels or rabbit stew but rollade – rolled up pork with herbs – is also very popular. The only real designated Christmas foods are kerstkransjes, the little biscuits tied to Christmas trees with ribbons, and kerststol, a delicious current bread with a little island of ground almond paste in the middle of each slice – unless you get the end bit.

Swap gifts
Swapping gifts with family members and friends on Christmas Day has become increasingly popular in recent years – never mind that you may well have done the present thing three weeks ago at Sinterklaas. If you have been invited to someone else’s house to celebrate, don’t be embarrassed to ask about the present situation. That good old Dutch bluntness has its advantages.

Listen to the king’s speech
King Willem-Alexander’s Christmas speech is broadcast on both state and commercial stations at 1pm. No subtitles but always a message of hope and goodwill.

Listen to (Dutch) Christmas songs
Turn the radio on in the run up to Christmas and you will find plenty of Christmas songs to get you in the festive mood—both in Dutch and English. And Willeke Alberti’s Met Kerst wil ik by jou zijn has all the nostalgia of Chris Rea’s Driving Home for Christmas.

Be gezellig
No matter how you decide to celebrate your Dutch Christmas this year, the most important element to add is a good dose of gezelligheid! If you are looking for a home away from home, ServicedApartments.nl offers short and long-term rentals – the perfect place for unpacking your old and new holiday traditions whilst working abroad.

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