Candlelight festival – Gothic Town Hall in Gouda, the Netherlands Image Source

Mention the Dutch and you probably think of windmills, tulips and the classic “clog” shoes that once were a fashion phenomena in the United States.

But during Christmas in the Netherlands, a man named Sinterklaas takes center stage. Wearing the clothes of a bishop and riding a horse throughout a parade, this “king” among men marks the high point of celebration among Netherlanders.

You’re forgiven if you, too, have to consult a map to make sure you can locate the grand kingdom of the Netherlands, located north of Belgium and west of Germany. Even had to double-check its geography to make sure that our global tour of Christmas traditions was on the right course. And boy; are we glad we did.

We found that Sinterklass makes quite a scene, arriving from Spain on a steamer on the last Saturday of November and traveling a straight path to meet the queen in her palace. Meanwhile, Dutch television stations broadcast the annual scene as if St. Nicholas truly was a visiting king – and to the Dutch, Sinterklaas is the next best thing during Christmas in the Netherlands.

Of course, Sinterklaas can’t be everywhere—but his spirit can. And so nearly every town in the Netherlands hosts its own Sinterklaas parade, and in some places the man in red velvet may make his grand entrance to town by carriage, moped or helicopter before setting up his “headquarters” at a grand hotel.

Christmas in the Netherlands - Santa on a bike

He keeps a busy schedule in the days before St. Nicholas Day (December 6), visiting schools, hospitals, department stores, malls and their homes. Meanwhile, Sinterklaas “treasure hunt” parties are hugely popular during Christmas in the Netherlands, and families can spend an entire evening deciphering clues and riddles that lead them to their gifts.

To top off the evening, Dutch families celebrate with food prepared in a gourmetten, or a small, tabletop grill that they gather around to cook dinner (meat, potatoes and vegetables) in together. A focal point during Christmas in the Netherlands, the gourmetten is an ideal way to bring everyone together for a leisurely meal — especially if there is enough brood (bread), Gouda cheese (for which the Netherlands is famous) and knofloofkboter (garlic butter) to go around.

After all that, it’s understandable that Christmas Day is usually a quiet affair in the Netherlands. (So is December 26, which is known as “Second Christmas Day.”) The quiet is broken only by the sound of farmers who blow horns across the countryside to honor their beloved national figure.

At, we’re not just tipping at windmills; read the full story of Christmas in the Netherlands and share it with your Dutch-loving friends on Twitter and Facebook.

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