Back to City life

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 people from outside Europe, it may seem strange that we celebrate Christmas on two days. But did you know that originally we even had four official Christmas days in the Netherlands? The government's holiday committee thought that was a bit excessive, so it was reduced to three, and eventually two, holidays. In the Netherlands, Christmas has lost much of its religious connotation. Although most churches host a well-attended midnight service on Christmas Eve where everyone is welcome, religious or not. 

There isn’t a significant difference between the first and second day of Christmas. Most shops are closed on the first Christmas day. A decade or so ago, most stores were also closed on Second Christmas Day. Nowadays we can all go to the woonboulevard on this holiday. Lucky us! The third day of Christmas isn’t an official holiday, but many people invite friends over for a casual dinner. 

Watching the All You Need Is Love Christmas Special

Dutch people who don't go to a Christmas service will all be swooning away on Christmas Eve with the All You Need Is Love Christmas special. Just kidding. Not everyone. But on average, about two million Dutchies watch how Robert ten Brink, Cupid of the lowlands, brings lovers together. So do you want to make sure you can participate in all the conversations at Christmas dinner? Then you should definitely watch. 

The Dutch Christmas breakfast

Just like our German neighbors, we love a good kerststol at Christmas. Kerststol is a sweet bread with currants, raisins, and almond paste, served with butter and a generous coating of powdered sugar. For many Dutch people, Christmas breakfast is a serious affair, for which you sit down at a beautifully set table in full regalia. Whereas Christmas dinner is often celebrated with others, we usually have breakfast with just the closest family. 

Of course, there are also plenty of Dutchies who don't roll out of bed until noon, and then spend the whole day in their pajamas binging Christmas movies and Christmas cookies on the couch. It's okay to adopt that as a tradition too! 

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 fry meat, fish, vegetables, or pancakes in a  cooking set (the gourmetstel) on the table. Everyone gets his or her own little pan, and fights for a spot on the large baking plate for their miniature slavink (ground meat wrapped in bacon). The whole house smells of food for weeks after this feast, but it's very gezellig. It's also practical, because you can get ready-made gourmet sets from the supermarket and just dump everything in your gourmet pan. No need to spend hours in the kitchen. 

Tip for the Dutch: the name of this activity is a bit misleading for foreigners. When a French or English person hears the word 'gourmet', they quickly think of a culinary masterpiece. So are you inviting an expat? Manage the expectations. 

Viennetta: still going strong after decades

Would you like to serve a real Dutch dessert at your Christmas dinner? Then Viennetta is basically your only option. This ice cream cake was first introduced in 1982, and the recipe has remained unchanged ever since. However, in addition to the traditional vanilla flavor, you can now get Viennetta in flavors such as cookie caramel and tiramisu. Officially, there are 45 flavors, but it’s very unlikely you’ll find them all in a Dutch supermarket. 

We feel obliged to warn you that Viennetta is not necessarily delicious. It is made of milk powder and '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 craving. But no worries, it will resurface around Easter. 

Warme chocolademelk

A Christmas box full of strange foods

In many countries, it is customary for people to receive a gift from their employer at the end of the year. Often, this is a cash bonus or a gift certificate. In the Netherlands, the good old kerstpakket is still unprecedentedly popular. A kerstpakket is a box or basket, traditionally filled with food that you would never buy yourself. And sometimes don't even want to eat. From tins of ragout to old-fashioned candy, and from dry saltines to salad dressings in flavors such as pineapple-Worcester sauce. 

Themed packages are also popular. For example, you get ingredients to bake your own waffles and a waffle iron (or any other niche kitchen tool that will soon disappear into the back of your storage room). Such a Christmas box is perfect if you are looking for a last-minute Christmas gift for someone you don't know (or don't particularly like) very well. Giving away your shitty kerstpakket is not-done, but everybody does it anyway. 

Letting grandma win at shuffleboard 

Christmas is one of the few times a year the shuffleboard (sjoelbord) is allowed to leave the attic. The object of playing shuffleboard is to slide wooden discs through small slots at the end of a wooden board. The shuffleboard with slots is typically Dutch, although other countries have a similar game. The English shuffleboard is more like playing curling on wood instead of ice. Also fun! 

Grandpas and grandmas always win at shuffleboard. Probably because shuffleboard talent develops over the years, or because we would like them to think so. It's also a tradition that no one knows the exact rules, and people cheat a bit by quickly pushing their discs into a slot at the end of their turn. If you don't have room for a shuffleboard, but would like to spend an afternoon playing old Dutch games, you can play Rummikub, Ludo, or Twister. 

Happy holidays!