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A Very Dutch Christmas

In the Netherlands, Christmas is very much the same, but earlier in the month, they also celebrate on December 5 with Sinterklaas (the Dutch name for Saint Nicholas) bringing presents.

There is a large public event when Sinterklaas arrives, which the Dutch Royal Family has taken part in .

Arriving from Spain (no chilly North Pole weather for Sinterklaas!) on a steamboat with his white horse, the mayor and the people greet him and a parade takes place.

Sinterklaas arriving on December 5

Sinterklaas arriving on 5 December by steamboat.

The history behind Sinterklaas tells a story of an old Saint, who is now centuries old arriving by a steamboat. With him come, Zwarte Piet or Black Peters, his servants and his faithful white horse. The adults then give him information on their children and he decides if a child has been good or not. If they have been well-behaved they are given presents and sweets. If their behaviour has not been up to par, they will be punished by a birch switching or, if they are exceptionally naughty, they will be taken away in a gunny bag back to Spain.

Like Santa, gifts are delivered through the chimney pipe, but his servant, Zwarte Piet does all the work. A shoe with a carrot inside is set out on the living room hearth for the horse, Zwarte Piet then takes the carrot and in return fills the shoe will presents.

The celebration takes place on 5 December as his namesake day is on the 6th, so his birthday celebrations take place on the eve of his birthday. During the evening, families gather and exchange gifts that may be hidden somewhere or in something like a potato. The evening is spent finding and opening presents, drinking hot chocolate, and eating special sweets. Another common gift is that of chocolate initials, with the giver usually presenting the first letter of the recipient’s name to the recipient.

The current Royal Family also spends time outside the country for the holidays. Queen Máxima is from Argentina, so they have taken trips to South America to celebrate with her family. Queen Máxima was born in Buenos Aires and schooled in the city of Olivos. She went on to the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina in 1995 to study Economics.

In 2012 and again in 2014, King Willem-Alexander, Queen Máxima, and their three daughters, Princesses Amalia, Alexia, and  Ariane visited Villa La Angostura for Christmas.

While catching up with family, the princesses visit local attractions such as the National Park Los Arayanes at Villa La Angostura.

In 2013, the family made the choice to stay in Holland as Willem-Alexander was newly crowned king. He decided that his first December 25 Christmas message to the Dutch people should be made on home soil.

Like Queen Elizabeth’s annual Christmas Day message, King Willem will be expected to carry on the tradition his mother, Queen Beatrix followed for so many years. However in 2012, people were able to watch the speech a day early as someone started to snoop around on the government website. After coming across the video, the person uploaded it to YouTube and told the world about it on Twitter.

Clearly that person had a very unfortunate run-in with Sinterklaas and a gunny bag that year!


Photo Credit: Tom Jutte via Flickr