Today is the first day of December, a month filled with celebrations for many religions and cultures. I know all of them are celebrated differently, with food, presents, rituals, or other traditions, but I’ll be blogging about what you can give to someone else. Like a gift, something homemade or a memory. Something different will be featured every day until the 25th of December. The last week of the year will be a round-up of all that has happened this year and a look ahead to what’s coming next year.
Blogmas is a blogging meme for December, with a Christmas theme, and runs until Christmas day. We celebrate Christmas differently in the Netherlands than in the USA, which is more commercial. December is very much a month in which we also think about the less fortunate and appreciate the things and family we have. Charities often try to raise extra money and the Salvation Army and food banks ask for donations to make the year-end celebration a little better for those who can’t afford it. Consider donating to a charity if you have some money spare or buy gifts that support charity.
There are a few categories that I’ll cover in my Blogmas posts: food, homemade gifts and ideas, small business support and activities. I really wanted to give some extra love to small businesses (often run by one or two people) who do amazing work. Please consider buying local or indie to support smaller businesses. They work incredibly hard to make their dreams come true and every purchase is one that will help them to keep pursuing that dream.
If you don’t want to wait for my Blogmas posts, you can also browse my gift guide from last year for ideas.
The Netherlands is originally a Christian country and Christmas is the only religious celebration that gives us time off from corporate jobs. Hospitality and retail jobs are extra busy this time of year with longer hours, a higher workload and specials. We have two days off for Christmas, the 25th and the 26th. Most families visit both sides of their family on separate days with dinner and being together. Restaurants have special menus on the two Christmas days with dishes they don’t have on the regular menu. The ingredients are often rare as well. Presents for the family celebration are optional.
It used to have a double meaning in my life. My grandfather was born on the 25th of December and the whole family would come together and celebrate. We’re on the other side of the country from where the rest of the family lives, so it was a perfect opportunity for us all to come together. Family gatherings have been scarce since his passing. So for me, Christmas has always been a celebration of family. Just being together, talking, sharing stories and food.
Most families do have a moment to share gifts. Most adults switch to Christmas for the gift exchange, but the younger families celebrate Sinterklaas, the Dutch version of Santa Claus. The official celebration is the 5th of December, but families celebrate it in the first week of December on a day that’s most convenient to them. Sometimes such a celebration is better during weekends than on a school night.’Zwarte pieten’ (or black face), the helpers of Sinterklaas, hand out candy to kids on the streets, at school or during home visits (arranged by parents). They also give gifts from a large jute bag. Sinterklaas is a jolly old man with a red robe and white beard, much like Santa Claus. And it makes sense since they’re both based on Saint Nicolas.
Companies often give employees a few hours off at the end of the day on the 5th of December so families can spend it together with the kids. The people who don’t celebrate it anymore still get those hours off as well, which is fair. Kids are usually anxious during the day, awaiting the arrival of Sinterklaas and his Pieten. Will they catch a glimps of them? The presents are usually hidden or brought onto the doorstep which is usually announced by loud banging on the door.
Sinterklaas is the biggest reason why Christmas will never be as capitalistic for retailers as Sinterklaas in The Netherlands. Even after people stop believing in Sinterklaas, they will still celebrate it with surprises (a present hidden in a humorous DIY project) or other gift-giving games since it’s been a tradition for centuries. If people buy presents for Christmas, they’ll be often singular presents, not large amounts.
I’ll be celebrating Sinterklaas with my husband’s family; his parents, his sister, and his brother-in-law’s family. There’s still one boy who believes Sinterklaas is real so still a big pile of presents for everyone. I have no idea how we’re going to celebrate it next year after he’s been given ‘the talk’. Christmas day we’ll spend with family. First his, then mine. The second day (the 26th) we’ll spend on the couch recovering from a food coma. Which holiday, tradition or birthday will you be celebrating this December?