Going Dutch for Christmas

After a four-day marathon drive from Athens in Greece, we had happily arrived in Pijnacker in The Netherlands just in time for the lead up to Christmas.

Our first Dutch Christmas experience was the Royal Christmas Fair in The Hague (Den Haag) – the seat of the Netherlands Government and the International Court of Justice.

At the Royal Christmas Fair in Den Haag
Santa Claus was happy to pose with dogs as well children
There was even a London bus at the Christmas Fair!

Well wrapped up against the chilly weather we took the short metro ride to The Hague and walked to the Fair in the beautiful Lange Voorhout in the historic centre.

The twinkling lights of the Christmas Fair

Twinkling lights and warming braziers were interspersed with stalls selling everything from woolly socks to candles, Christmas decorations to hot chilli sauce.

There were warming braziers scattered around the fairground
Hannah and Pieter warming themselves at one of the braziers
There were many stalls selling all kinds of Christmas gifts and winter clothes

The most popular stalls were the food vendors who sold yummy treats such as braadworst (Dutch spicy sausage) and divine frites (French fries) with mayonnaise; pastries and many varieties of cakes including Gevulde Speculaas (a yummy almond filled cake with a spicy base) and warming drinks such as hot chocolate and Glühwein (peppery, spicy mulled wine – like Christmas pudding in drink form!)

Hot chocolate and Gluhwein warmed us up
The frites were divine!

There were also musical performances including two sets performed by the choir that our daughter Hannah sings in. It was so Christmassy listening to Christmas carols and other festive songs.

It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas 🎶
The choir drew in quite an audience

After the excitement of our arrival there were more even bigger celebrations just a day or so later when our daughter’s childhood friend arrived from Australia.

Childhood friends together again at last!
They were literally jumping for joy!

Christmas festivities then started in earnest with the buying and decorating of the Christmas tree (a real live one to be planted in the garden after the twelfth day of Christmas) and making homemade table decorations with ferns and berries from the garden.

Buying the beautiful Christmas tree
That Christmas ritual of sorting out the Christmas tree lights!
Adding the traditional cookie ornaments
Putting on the finishing touches
Homemade table decorations

That evening Hannah and her partner Pieter also officially announced their engagement so of course the bubbles kept on flowing!

Celebrating Hannah and Pieter’s engagement
A delicious feast is about to be served!

More celebrations followed with Jonathan’s birthday – we had great fun ten-pin bowling with an Italian meal afterwards.

Arriving at the bowling alley for Jonathan’s birthday celebrations
A birthday firework for Jonathan

More Australian visitors arrived – a high school friend of Hannah’s and his partner on a whirlwind trip of Europe. We had a great day eating great food and drinking Glühwein.

A great day with Aussie visitors

Shopping trips in the cosy lanes of The Hague and Delft, walks in the frosty air, and then suddenly it was Christmas Eve with a wonderful feast, and a carol service followed by more eating and drinking and silly games!

Two very typically Dutch things – cycling and windmills
The delightful shopping streets of Den Haag
Lovely Christmas lights in a square in Den Haag. Heaters and blankets make it possible to enjoy your drink sitting outside!
Enjoying walks in the frosty air

In the very crowded Church on Christmas Eve

Christmas Day in the Netherlands is different to the Christmas we have traditionally celebrated in England and Australia – especially relating to gifts. In the Netherlands Santa Claus (Sinterklaas) arrives on 5th December instead of the 25th.

A small band plays carols in the local supermarket
Lighting Christmas candles

On the evening of the 5th, younger children sing songs to Sinterklaas at the top of their lungs until they hear a loud knock on the door. If they have been good, they will find a bag bulging with gifts just outside the door (friends and neighbours help out here).

Playing silly games

When the little ones are in bed the tradition here is that the older children and adults also receive gifts. In the highly organised Dutch way, each member of the family party draws a name in secret before the holiday and then buys a gift or gifts for that person. Also very Dutch is that there is often an agreement made about how much will be spent on the presents.

Laying the table for a delicious Christmas brunch

Another Dutch tradition is that the gifts are usually accompanied by humorous and slightly mocking poems filled with puns written specifically for the recipient and read aloud by them. It is often used as an opportunity for people to have a go, score points or take revenge on their siblings and friends.

Relaxing over Christmas with family – what could be better?

We decided to continue with the Anglo/Australian tradition of opening gifts on Christmas Day after brunch but instead of the usual frenzy of multiple gifts we decided on a secret Santa where each person buys for one recipient.

Our lovely Christmas tree

We also each bought two or three little presents and played a game where you could either pick and unwrap a parcel or steal an opened one from another person. Always good fun when someone has secured a gift that they really like and the rest tease them by taking it from them! Usually everyone ends up happy with the gifts they have won!

Sadly we didn’t get a white Christmas we had wished for but we all thoroughly enjoyed the delicious food, the good wine, the gift exchange and the silly games and most of all being able to experience our first Dutch Christmas with our daughter and future son-in-law.

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Salty tales from Bali Hai

In 2015, after a break from cruising of almost 30 years, my husband and I sailed off into the sunset - this time to the wonderful Islands of Indonesia and beyond. Three years passed and we swapped sails for wheels driving through Scandinavia and Europe in a motor home. Now we are on the brink of another adventure - buying a Lagoon 420 Catamaran in Athens. This is our story.

2 thoughts on “Going Dutch for Christmas”

  1. It sounds like a magical Christmas Dot – no doubt the first of many Dutch Christmases for you and Jonathan! The festive traditions sound a lot less commercialised than here and great fun – I’m so glad you all had such a great time!

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