Christmas In The Netherlands
By: Anise Hollingshead
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Christmas is a special time of year in the Netherlands as in many countries, but there are some differences in the manner in which it is celebrated. For one thing, there is no Santa Claus or Father Christmas delivering presents on Christmas Eve. Instead, Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas) hands out presents to good children on the eve of his feast day, which is December 6th. This is a very special time for Dutch children, who set out their shoes in anticipation of the candy and presents they will receive in them in return for putting out hay for Sinterklaas's white horse.
Because the children receive presents and candy on Sinterklaas, gift giving is not as common on Christmas as it is in some countries, although it is becoming more customary as time goes on due to influences from other cultures. Special dinners and spending time with families is more the focus this time of year and people try to relax and enjoy each other's company.
After Sinterklaas has gone back to Spain, people start preparing for Christmas by decorating their homes and shops. Christmas trees (a German custom) are a common sight in many homes, but not every house has one. Poinsettias, which are called Kerststers (Christmas Stars), are popular items this time of year, and everyone loves to sing Christmas carols. There aren't many "white Christmas's" though!
Prior to Christmas, a custom known as Midwinter Horn Blowing is still practiced in parts of the rural east, which starts on Advent Sunday and continues until Christmas Eve. At dusk, farmers take long horns made from elder trees and blow them while standing over wells, which lends an eerie sound to the call, which is an announcement of the coming Christ.
Christmas is celebrated on 2 days, rather than just one. On the eve of First Christmas Day, the Christmas tree may be lit for the first time, sometimes with real candles. People may attend church that evening, or on First Christmas Day morning. Families will gather together to eat dinner First Christmas Day at a candle-lit table that has been decorated with green, white and red trimmings. Venison, hare, goose or turkey are traditionally served as the main dish, with Kerstbrood (Christmas loaf), Kerstkrans (Christmas Ring) and different kinds of puddings as desserts. Christmas carols may be sung, the birth of Jesus narrated, or favorite Christmas tales read. Second Christmas Day is spent in leisurely activities, which may include attending plays or symphonies, or eating dinner out at a nice restaurant. School children receive 2 weeks vacation from school during this time.