Christmas in The Netherlands / Holland
For most children in The Netherlands, the most important day during December is 5th December, when Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas) brings them their presents!
St. Nicholas' day is on the 6th December, but in The Netherlands, the major celebrations are held on the 5th December. The name Santa Claus comes from the name Sinterklaas.
On the morning of St. Nicholas' Day, Sinterklaas travels to a city or town in The Netherlands, wearing his red bishop's robes. He travels with his servants called 'Zwarte Pieten' ('Black Peters'). When Sinterklaas and the Black Peters come ashore from the boat, all of the local church bells ring in celebration. Sinterklaas then leads a procession through the town, riding a white horse. If he visits Amsterdam, he meets the Queen in the Palace.
On December, 5th children leave clogs or shoes out, by the fireplace or sometimes a windowsill, and sing Sinterklaas songs. They hope that Sinterklaas will come during the night with some presents. They also believe that if they leave some hay and carrots in their shoes for Sinterklaas's horse, they will be left some sweets. They're told that, during the night, Sinterklaas rides on the roofs on his horse and that a 'Zwarte Piet' will then climb down the chimney (or through a window) and put the presents and/or candy in their shoes.
Children are told that the Zwarte Pieten keep a record of all the things they have done in the past year. Good children will get presents from Sinterklaas, but bad children will be put in a sack and the Zwarte Pieten take them to Spain for a year to teach then how to behave! Dutch tradition says that St. Nicholas lives in Madrid, Spain and every year he chooses a different harbour to arrive in Holland, so as many children as possible get a chance to see him. Every town in The Netherlands has a few Sinterklaas helpers, dressed the same as Sinterklaas who help give the presents out. (and sometimes you might one see one Zwarte Pieten with Sinterklaas!)
If children are really lucky they might receive all their presents during the evening. This is called 'Sinterklaasavond' or 'Pakjesavond' (present evening). There might be a knock at the door and you might find a sack full of presents!
Sinterklaas parties are often held on St. Nicholas' Eve (5th), where treasure hunt games are played with poems and riddles giving the clues. Children follow the clues to find little presents left by Sinterklaas. Special biscuits and sweets are also eaten at the party. One type of biscuit is called 'letter blanket' or 'banketletter' (meaning letter cake), which is made from marzipan or pastry. The biscuits are made in the shapes of the first letter of the peoples names who are at the party. Another sweet biscuit that is eaten at the parties are 'pepernoot' which are made with cinnamon and spices in the pastry biscuit mix. Here's a recipe for peppernoot. And Here's a recipe for kerstkrans, a Dutch Christmas Ring Cake.
Surprise presents are also given on St. Nicholas' Day. A custom at the Sinterklaas parties, often within classes at schools, is that everyone's name is put into a hat and everyone picks another person's name - then they have to make a surprise present for that person. The presents are often things that the person would find useful with their favourite hobby. The presents come with a poem inside that gives a clue to who might have sent the present, but it is all meant to be a mystery! This is a similar custom to a present sending one in Germany.
You can find out more about Sinterklass in The Netherlands in some great little videos that have been made by Father Roderick Vonhogen, a Catholic Priest from The Netherlands.
Christmas Day itself is a much quieter day in The Netherlands, with a Church Service and family meal. Sometimes there is a special Christmas Day 'Sunday School' in the afternoon at the church, where the Christmas Story and other traditional stories are told. These are often the only presents children will get on Christmas Day because they have already received most of their presents on St. Nicholas Day.
On Christmas Eve night, Dutch Children believe that Santa Claus, (who is also call 'Christmas man' / 'Kerstman' to avoid confusion with Sinterklaas!) comes from Lapland in Finland to deliver more presents!
Many people in The Netherlands also have a Christmas Tree in their houses.
In Dutch Happy/Merry Christmas is 'Prettig Kerstfeest'. Happy/Merry Christmas in lots more languages.