Christmas in Holland / The Netherlands
For most children in Holland, the most important day during the Christmas Celebrations is 5th December, when Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas) brings them their presents!
St. Nicholas' day is on the 6th December, but in Holland, 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 servant called Zwarte Piet (Black Peter). When Sinterklaas and Black Peter 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 to be filled with 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. Children are told that Zwarte Piet keeps a record of all the things they have done in the past year, in a book, and that good children will get presents from Sinterklaas, but bad children will get chased by Zwarte Piet with a stick! 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 Holland has a few Sinterklaas helpers, dressed the same as Sinterklaas who help give the presents out.
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.
Christmas Day itself is a much quieter day in Holland, 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' 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 'Prettige Kerstfeest'. Happy/Merry Christmas in lots more languages.