5 things you need for a typical Dutch Christmas

5 things you need for a typical Dutch Christmas

The Dutch Christmas isn’t as glamorous as the holiday is in some other countries. More than anything, it is an occasion for family to come together and spend some time eating tasty food, watching Christmas movies, catching up and playing games.

Still, if you would like to try a Dutch-style Christmas, or you are celebrating Christmas with Dutch friends and family this year, here are some things you might encounter:

1. A gourmet set

There are various seasonal foods the Dutch can decide to prepare for Christmas, but the number one Yuletide dining experience, without a doubt, is gourmetten. The fact that the word has been turned into a verb already hints at the different nature of its meaning. Rather than just implying fancy food, gourmetten is a joint activity where the entire dining company gathers around a heated plate to roast small meats and vegetables. It’s a bit like a mix between a teppanyaki plate, raclette and a barbecue.

A gourmet set is definitely unique, though. Underneath the heated plate, there are often slots where one can insert tiny little pans to prepare miniature pancakes or omelettes to go with the stuff cooking on top of the hot plates. This is a particularly big attraction if there are children in your group.

2. A Kerstpakket

Employees who are new to the Netherlands may be surprised to be handed what seems like a peculiar care package from their employers around the holidays. This is the Kerstpakket (Christmas package), a present from the company, to see you through the holidays and show you some appreciation for your hard work throughout the year.

The Kerstpakket comes in many shapes and sizes, depending on the employer’s discretion. It could just be a gift certificate in a fancy envelope. The most typical ones, though, are boxes complete with all kinds of drinks, cheeses and Christmas bread (kerststol), along with curious items like pasta shells, crackers, novelty items and sauces.

Although the Kerstpakket is a voluntary present, and more symbolic than anything else, people working in the Netherlands tend to rejoice when receiving one around the holidays, so it's a good tradition for expat employers to keep in mind.

3. Delft Blue Christmas ornaments

Dutch Christmas ornaments can get as gaudy as those of any other country. Touristy stuff is perfectly allowed during this special time that celebrates over-the-top flamboyance, so don’t be surprised to see some Delft Blue Christmas clogs up in the tree. Delft blue Christmas ornament

Another ornament you might find at a Dutch Christmas market is the candle mill: a tea light or set of little candles with light metal cherubs or stars hanging above them, right next to a little bell. The heat from the candle pushes the warm air upwards, causing the cherubs to start milling around and hitting the bells, resulting in a tinkling sound.

The Dutch are famous for their window sills, which can often be seen from the streets, containing all kinds of knickknacks. Be sure to keep an eye out for little Christmas trees, lights and model Christmas villages on the sills around December!

4. Ice skates

Nothing - not even the weather - will deter the average Dutchman from donning his skates and taking to the ice! Most Dutch people have a pair of ice skates primed and ready in case the local canals freeze over at Christmas time. Young children are ushered onto the ice as well, with special double-bladed skates, and often with a chair to lean on for balance.

When there is no natural ice on the canals, plenty of ice skating rinks pop up around the country for everyone to get their fill of ice skating after all. In these cases, skates can often be rented.

5. Traditional family games

A beloved pastime for many Dutch families during Christmas is playing traditional games together. The sjoelbak, for instance, is a favourite that is often kept in grandfather’s attic, to be brought out come the winter holidays.

A sjoelbak is a long, wooden, open box with several slots at the end. Wooden discs are slid down the length of the board, and depending on which slot they end up in, points are awarded.

Board games also come down from the shelves around this time, too. Favourites are Scrabble, Rummikub, Mens Erger Je Niet and Ganzenbord.

Will you be having a Dutch Christmas this year, or do you prefer the traditions from your own country? Either way, IamExpat wishes you happy holidays!

Alexandra van Kampen


Alexandra van Kampen

English and Japanese theatre and culture are my forte. My mother was raised in England, and my grandmother in Japan. I studied Japanese Language and Culture, and Film and Photographic...

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