SO, the Christmas season is here. At this point I would normally be in a complete panic about getting everything done. All the magic that has to fit into a few simple weeks. It all starts with the Intocht and ends on New Years and there is no stopping in between.
I have always joked with Dutch moms about how easy Americans have it this time of year. First, there is Thanksgiving. It can be stressful, but it really is what you make it. For the Dutch people, Thanksgiving is a celebration of a bunch of religious refugees not starving to death because the Native population helped them out. If you would like more info about the history behind the holiday, leave me a comment and I will recommend some awesome podcasts for you. But Thanksgiving is all about the food. It can be a stressful shitshow or a laid back afternoon, depending on your family traditions.
Then the Christmas season kicks into full swing. Americans will tell you how miserable and stressful everything is but I will tell you, ya’ll aint got nothing on the Dutch.
There are a few basic “must do” things to have a fairy tale American Christmas.
- Nail Thanksgiving. I mean NAIL IT. No matter how your family does it, do it right. The fam should walk away saying “damn, that Aunt Betty cooks a mean bird!” Or something like that.
- Get the tree. Big or small, this is an event. I have memories of schlepping into the middle of nowhere to trudge through the woods to cut down our family tree. It was miserable. I hated it. I liked it better when we went to the empty lot by the TombThumb and argued with each other for an hour over a tree and even more when we bought a fake tree and skipped the drudgery all together. However you get the tree though, it must be up the weekend after Thanksgiving. No exceptions. You must also take magical pictures of the kids putting decorations on.
- The obligatory picture with Santa. You must take the children to the shopping mall, stand in line and pray for that one amazing picture that will make the experience worth it. A nice Dutch comparison would be taking the family to the Keukenhof.
- Christmas Eve. This will depend on the family but generally a ham is involved. It needs to be amazing, but not as good as Thanksgiving. Never as good as Thanksgiving!!
- Christmas morning. This is pretty much a celebration of surviving. The kids tear through the presents, mom and dad drink mimosas (or was it just my family who got lit on Christmas morning?). Then the kids watch TV while Mom prepares yet another meal and Dad fusses about with the wrapping paper that is strewn around the living room.
That’s it! Easy peasy lemon squeezy!
I refuse to acknowledge that stupid elf. Ya’ll did that to yourselves. That nightly misery is all on you.
Que all the Americans to say: “that is so much!! It kills me every year!” I will answer: Momma, I know. My point is that the Dutch take the crazy and step it up about 5 notches.
See, it all starts with the Intocht. You can read the specifics (I wrote ages ago)Christmas in The Netherlands – Part One: Sinterklaas is coming to town!!.
Here is a list of the Dutch parents “to do list starting mid November”
- The Intocht. Parents are required to procure an appropriate costume for their children. They can either dress as a Piet or as Sint. Of course it is ALWAYS raining on the day so no one will see it anyways but these are the rules. You must research where the best arrival will be and get there early to get a good spot. You want to be able to see the old man riding that horse, bonus points if there is a boat involved. That totally ups the magic quota. The children must have bags to collect the candy given out by Piets. Side note: an intocht will be remembered and judged by the amount of free candy. I remember one year I had to sneak into the nearby grocery store and buy a bag to hand out to kids because our local party ran out early). Luckily, this event only lasts about an hour and then everyone can go home and take off their wet clothes.
- Sinterklaas Journal. It’s a thing. It’s going to be hard for Americans to understand. There is a news program than comes on every night while Sint is in town. It’s like news meets comedy soap opera. There is always a problem when the big man arrives. One year the naughty and nice book was lost, another year the presents went missing. This year (lovely 2020) Sint is in quarantine and the Piets are being naughty. Families watch the saga in the evenings and the kids get daily updates about the status of the presents. I guess, we don’t. The kids also watch it in school. Do you believe that? IN SCHOOL! I get to hear about it daily, joy.
- The shoes: The story is: While they are in town Sint checks up on the kids. Children leave out their shoes and when Sint visits after they are in bed he leaves them a small present or candy. Bonus points if the kids leave a carrot in the shoe for the horse (teach ass kissing early, right). Yes, magical for the children. But remember, parents have to shop for and stash an appropriate amount of “shoe presents” for the three weeks of festivities. Every family chooses how often presents are left in the shoes and how big they are. Myself, I am lucky to even remember twice, if I remember to buy things beforehand. This means that the magic happens on weekends after I have been to the grocery store and remembered to buy something. Never on weekdays (I got stupid and did this yesterday, a Thursday) we were late for school and covered in chocolate at 8:30. My fault). I was told that this year, because Sint is in Quarantine, the Piets are being super naughty and leaving the shoes in random places. Those silly Piets, giving mommy something else to remember!
- Piet houses: There is one in every city center. Its a space for kids to go and do crafts and such after school. Its magical. Its great. Its crowded and busy and, because there is something different to do every week, we have to go multiple times. Awesome.
- Sint residence. Well, the old man has to live somewhere! In every big city there will be one castle or farm or museum that will be a designated “Sint House”. REQUIRED VISIT. Luckily, the older kids will go with school. Unluckily, you will undoubtedly be asked to chaperone.
- School Christmas dinner. This is a nice one, actually. All the kids bring a plate, fork and cup to school. When the kids go home the teachers decorate the class rooms for a festive dinner. Parents sign up to bring dishes, pot luck style. The kids get all dressed up and have a fancy dinner with their friends. Bonus points if there is a little parents drink in the school gym. I look forward to this every year.
- School craft day. Parent supervision required. Wait, were these two after Sint but before Christmas? Maybe… I can’t keep is all straight anymore.
- Surprise gifts. Older kids draw names and get a gift for another student. But wait, added torture, the presentation is more important than the gift. Pretty much this is homework for parents. Both the shopping for the gifts and the creating overly elaborate wrapping that is supposed to be in the shape of a thing..(Luckily, my kids aren’t old enough for this yet).
- DON’T FORGET TO PUT PRESENTS IN THAT SHOE!
- The big day, or night….. December 5th. The children go to school that day as normal. Sint delivers the presents in a burlap sack sometime after dinner. Simple version: put the sack outside the front door and either ring the bell, sneaky like, and let the kids run outside and find the presents. Big version: Hire a Piet or Sint to come deliver the presents in person. I have done both. My old neighborhood association would provide a few Piets and you could sign up for a 5 minute visit on the big night.
- A chocolate letter: the first letter of the first name is a required gift for everyone in the house. BUY THIS EARLY! THE COMMON LETTERS WILL SELL OUT! Remember that children do not get gifts on Christmas. This is THE present time so go big or there will be tears at school the next day.
- Don’t forget to engage in the lively debate that happens every year about weather or not white people donning full black face, big lips and a full afro wig is racist. This argument will be a DAILY occurrence and will make you want to pull your hair out. This Mommy on a Mission will come out and say: yes. it is racist. Time to change. Moving on!!!
Phew…I’m tired. Are you tired?
But wait..it’s not over… Not for Dutchies.
With Sint gone it’s time for Christmas. Now is time to get that tree up! Visit the Christmas markets! Sing carols and watch Christmas movies. See, Sint and Christmas are two completely different parties with different rules and traditions Sint is all about the kids. Dutch parents kill themselves to make this time so special. I think thats why the older and conservative people are holding on to Black Piet so hard. This is a magical time. Like American Christmas but on crack. It’s amazing really. But the crazy thing is that Dutch people don’t feel overwhelmed. They love all of it and get it all done with a flawless ease that I am in awe of.
I feel overwhelmed every year. As magical as this is for the kids I kinda miss the simplicity of American Christmas season. But, I will say that when I started writing this I felt relieved that I didn’t have to do it all this year, but as I end this post I realize that I actually miss it. Or maybe I miss complaining about it? That could be it!
Are you looking for more awesome content about Christmas in the Netherlands?