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A very Dutch Christmas

Playing shuffleboard, eating Viennetta ice cream cake, or watching All You Need Is Love: if you grew up in the Netherlands, you'll find everything we do at Christmas perfectly normal, while people from abroad are often amazed by our customs. Just for them, we have listed some typical Dutch Christmas traditions. And who knows, maybe we can teach the Dutch a thing or two about their Christmas celebrations as well!

First and second day of Christmas on 25 and 26 December 

For those unfamiliar with European traditions, the concept of celebrating Christmas over two days might seem peculiar. However, did you know that originally, the Netherlands even observed four official Christmas days? The holiday committee of the government deemed that a bit excessive, leading to the reduction of Christmas days first to three, and eventually to two. In the Netherlands, the religious significance of Christmas has diminished considerably. While most churches host a well-attended midnight service on Christmas Eve that welcomes everyone, regardless of their religious affiliation, Christmas has taken on a more secular tone.

The distinction between the first and second day of Christmas isn't particularly significant. On the first Christmas day, most shops are closed. A decade or so ago, stores were also closed on the second Christmas day, but nowadays, we can all enjoy a trip to the woonboulevard on this holiday. Lucky us! While the third day of Christmas isn't an official holiday, many people take the opportunity to invite friends over for a casual dinner.

Watching the All You Need Is Love Christmas Special

Dutch folks who skip the Christmas service often find themselves glued to the television on Christmas Eve, indulging in the All You Need Is Love Christmas special. Okay, maybe not everyone, but on average, around two million Dutch citizens tune in to witness Robert ten Brink, the Cupid of the lowlands, uniting lovebirds. If you want to ensure you're in the loop for all the Christmas dinner conversations, it's definitely worth a watch.

The Dutch Christmas breakfast

Just like our German neighbors, we have a soft spot for a delicious kerststol during the Christmas season. Kerststol is a sweet bread featuring currants, raisins, and almond paste, served with butter and generously dusted with powdered sugar. For many Dutch folks, Christmas breakfast is a serious affair, where you gather around a beautifully set table in full festive attire. While Christmas dinner is often a social event with others, breakfast is typically enjoyed in the intimate company of close family.

Of course, there are plenty of Dutchies who prefer a more relaxed approach, perhaps not rising until noon and spending the entire day in cozy pajamas, indulging in Christmas movies and cookies on the couch. We totally understand if you prefer to embrace this laid-back holiday tradition! 

Wrap up the Year

Want to end the year on a festive note? We present restaurants with delicious holiday menus, shops for spectacular party outfits, the best activities for the holidays, and more!

Let's wrap up the year in style!

Gourmetten with the whole family

Do-it-yourself teppanyaki the Dutch way. We cook meat, fish, veggies, or pancakes on a tabletop set called a "gourmetstel." Each person has their own small pan and competes for space on a big griddle on top for their little slavinks (bacon-wrapped ground meat). The whole house smells of food for weeks after this feast, but it's very gezellig. It's also very easy—buy a ready-made set from the store and let your guest do the work. No need to spend a hours in the kitchen.

A word of advice for Dutchies: the name of this activity can be a tad misleading for our foreign friends. When a French or English person hears the word 'gourmet,' they might envision a culinary masterpiece. So, if you're inviting an expat, it's wise to manage expectations accordingly.

Viennetta: still going strong after decades

If you want to include a genuine Dutch dessert in your Christmas dinner, Viennetta is pretty much your go-to. This ice cream cake made its debut in 1982, and the recipe hasn't changed since. While the classic vanilla version is a staple, you can now find Viennetta in flavors like cookie caramel and tiramisu. Despite officially boasting 45 flavors, tracking them all down in a Dutch supermarket is quite a challenge.

Fair warning: Viennetta is not necessarily delicious. It's crafted from milk powder and something called 'choco fantasy', which is a cute word for chocolate in which cocoa is hard to find. After Christmas, we are all instantly cured of our nostalgic Viennetta cravings. But no worries, it will resurface around Easter

Warme chocolademelk

A Christmas box filled with peculiar foods

In numerous countries, it's common for employees to receive a year-end gift from their employers, often in the form of a cash bonus or a gift certificate. In the Netherlands, the beloved kerstpakket remains remarkably popular. A kerstpakket is a box or basket traditionally stocked with food items that you probably wouldn't purchase for yourself—some of which you might even be hesitant to eat. From tins of ragout to old-fashioned candies, and from dry saltines to salad dressings in peculiar flavors like pineapple-Worcester sauce.

Themed packages are also a hit. Picture receiving ingredients for making your own waffles along with a waffle iron (or any other niche kitchen gadget that will soon find its way to the back of your storage room). Such a Christmas box is ideal for a last-minute gift, especially if you're shopping for someone you don't know well (or don't particularly like). While it's considered a no-no to regift your less-than-stellar kerstpakket, it seems that everyone does it anyway.

Letting grandma triumph at shuffleboard 

Christmas is that rare time when the shuffleboard (sjoelbord) gets a pass to come down from the attic. The goal of shuffleboard is to skillfully slide wooden discs through small slots at the end of a wooden board. While the shuffleboard with slots is distinctly Dutch, similar games exist in other countries. The English shuffleboard is akin to playing curling on wood instead of ice, which is also a blast!

When it comes to shuffleboard, it seems that grandpas and grandmas always come out on top. Maybe it's because shuffleboard skills improve with age, or perhaps it's just our way of making them feel like champions. It's also a tradition for no one to be entirely sure of the exact rules, with a bit of friendly cheating thrown in by swiftly sliding discs into a slot at the end of each turn. If you're short on space for a shuffleboard but still keen on spending an afternoon enjoying old Dutch games, you can opt for Rummikub, Ludo, or Twister.

Happy holidays!