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Christmas Around the World: Holidays in the Netherlands

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Christmas is an exciting time of year for many of us, but it is celebrated differently all over the world. From The Netherlands to Australia, InterNations employees have shared their Christmas experiences and traditions from their native countries. With more than 2.4 million members in 390 cities around the world, InterNations is the largest global network and information site for people who live and work abroad. Currently more than 100 people from 33 countries work at InterNations in Munich and five of them are sharing their personal Christmas stories as part of a holiday series here.

Although the Netherlands does not have the most extraordinary Christmas traditions, our Christmas celebrations are a little different than in other countries. Of course we all love buying a tree and decorating it with bright red Christmas balls and shiny silver ribbons like every Christmas fanatic. Moreover, we send out cards to all of our loved ones to wish them a merry Christmas and happy new year. Yet, these things are not really special or different from other countries. I will first tell you a little about how we celebrate Christmas, then explain why Christmas is a little different here.

Elementary school
When it comes to schools, elementary schools are the most enthusiastic about Christmas. They decorate the whole school and organize festive walks on the days before Christmas. The kids all receive a small lantern and walk through the neighborhood visiting spots that imitate the circumstances on the night of Christ's birth while the story is told by a guide in costume. On Christmas itself, schools prepare a big breakfast for all of the children using the traditional Christmas bread and Matze crackers. All of the kids enjoy the Christmas stories and food, and the teachers love it as well.

Gifts or no gifts
On Christmas Eve, families gather for a tasty dinner in a cozy atmosphere. Christmas songs play all evening while everyone enjoys their food and catches up on the latest family happenings. After everyone has finished eating and is done talking about the new family additions, recent marriages, and job promotions, everyone can't wait to open up their presents, right?

Well, this is something that is a little different in the Netherlands because not every family celebrates Christmas with presents. This is due to the fact that we also celebrate 'Sinterklaas' (who looks a lot like Santa Claus), especially when there are young kids in the family who still believe in the existence of Sinterklaas. The Sinterklaas celebtration is held on the 5th of the December in the evening, which is called 'presents evening' when translated literally. Every kid will receive a poem written especially for them from the holy Sinterklaas telling them how well (or badly) they have been behaving the past year and why they deserve to have these presents.

Because this is a typical Dutch tradition celebrated extensively throughout the whole country some families celebrate Christmas as more of a cozy get-together for the family, rather than the traditional American "Santa" Christmas with loads of presents. In general, it's the families with little kids who still believe in Sinterklaas that celebrate extensively. As the kids in the families grow older, the Christmas cozy get-together overtakes Sinterklaas as the December tradition.

Second day of Christmas
Not only do we have two bearded old men visiting the Netherlands in December, we celebrate an extended Christmas. Instead of just the regular Christmas Eve and Christmas day, we have a second day of Christmas. On this day most families celebrate with friends/the other half of the family, relax at home, or go out on a trip with loved ones. Overall, it is just an extended holiday to spend some more time with friends and family.

As you can tell, we celebrate Christmas a little bit differently to other countries because we have Sinterklaas and the second day of Christmas as well. Nevertheless, we Dutch people love to celebrate Christmas just as much as other countries!

By: Rowan Van den Bosch