The Dutch definitely know how to celebrate holidays, that’s for sure. Instead of just one Kerstdag (Christmas Day), they have two; Eerste en Tweede Kerstdagen. There isn’t a legitimate reason for it besides having more time to celebrate, but I mean, do you really need one?
In my host family, Eerste Kerstdag, December 25th, is celebrated at home with the immediate family. Then on Tweede Kerstdag, December 26th, you celebrate with the extended family. Personally, I enjoy this a lot because you don’t have to try and cram seeing all of your family and friends into one day. You can spread it out into two days and have a much more relaxed holiday season.
In my host family, Christmas Eve is also an important time for people to come together. We had a nice dinner with my host family and a few other family members on Kim’s dad side. It felt like the kind of Christmas lunch or dinner that I would have with my family at home. Definitely a gezellig evening together as a family.
On Eerste Kerstdag, we had a typical Dutch brunch, complete with an insane amount of bread and equally as much cheese. It was a nice way to spend the morning and I also enjoyed the various types of bread that we don’t eat the rest of the year, such as kerststol. On Tweede Kerstdag, we went to Patricia’s family in Limburg. There, we spent hours just eating and talking, playing games with each other and playing a round of dobbelen, which is essentially White Elephant. That is what Christmas is all about, family, food, and gezelligheid.
However, there were definitely more differences between American and Dutch Christmas. If you live in the United States, then you are definitely accustomed to the typical American idea of Christmas. There are the Macy’s day parades, going skating in Millenium Park, and the infamous Black Friday. I feel like the movies Home Alone and A Christmas Story are the perfect description of my idea of Christmas. To be honest, I never truly questioned the way things are, it’s just Christmas! This is why when people here started asking me those exact questions, I didn’t really know how to respond.
When looking at American Christmas from an outsiders point of view, the amount of commercialization and money thrown into it is genuinely incredible. It’s something that I never doubted before but now seems so strange to me. Every commercial airing in November and December has some sort of holiday theme and a lot of the holiday season focus is centered around gift giving and the economic side of Christmas.
While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it is definitely something different that I have noticed about the Netherlands. Many families don’t give gifts at Christmas at all, or else they do a sort of Secret Santa. Granted, most of the gift exchange happens earlier in the month on Sinterklaas, but it is still a very different mindset, or vibe if you will, than in the United States.
I’m not going to lie, it’s impossible not to be homesick around Christmas time, regardless of how much fun it is. At a time when your whole family is together, there’s no way not to miss them. I definitely felt that this Christmas season, but I know that next year I will be back with them, wishing I was still here in Nederland! You can’t stress stuff like that, Christmas in the Netherlands is a one-time thing!