Sinterklaas and Christmas are right around the corner, which means: it’s time for the feasting on Dutch festive food to begin!
You might be wondering what to feed your Dutch friends over this period (more Hagelslag?), so we’re here with the ultimate guide to Dutch festive food and drinks.
With the holiday season fast approaching, the supermarkets are already stocking up on all the regular festive food and drinks that the Dutch enjoy.
But if you’re feeling unsure about what everything is and when to eat it, never fear, for this guide to Dutch festive food and drink has got your back!
Sinterklaas: the Dutch Saint Nick
Sinterklaas is a mythical figure based on Saint Nicholas. In the Netherlands, Sinterklaas (the event) is celebrated from mid-November when Sinterklaas arrives from Spain on a steamboat and then rides through the streets on his white horse. His sooty assistants throw candy and either kruidnoten or pepernoten into the crowd while children cheer and sing traditional Sinterklaas songs.
In the lead-up to Saint Nicholas’ Eve and Day, many traditions are practised, including children leaving shoes out to be filled with candy, leaving a carrot for Sinterklaas’ horse and gift-giving.
On the evening of December 5, the main present is also received. The celebration is often seen as only for children and once children are old enough many Dutch families switch to gift-giving only on Christmas. Still, there are plenty of yummy treats for young and old to try during Sinterklaas!
The festive food and drink during Sinterklaas
Now that you’re up to date on the traditions, let’s get into the good stuff: the food that will fill your belly.
Kruidnoten — one of the treats that Sinterklaas often throws to children are these little biscuit-like treats. Made with the same ingredients as speculaas and tasting a little like gingerbread, kruidnoten are ridiculously delicious and you won’t be able to have just one! Try the recipe here.
Speculaas cookies are spiced biscuits made with pepper, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, cardamom and nutmeg. Foreigners often know them as ‘windmill cookies’ as they are often made in the shape of windmills, but they can be made into almost any shape. Get the recipe here.
Pepernoten are slightly similar to kruidnoten, also being small little biscuit-like treats, but are spiced with sugar and anise. Slightly more peppery than kruidnoten (obviously), pepernoten are a popular treat during Sinterklaas. Try the recipe here.
Chocolate letters are one of the gifts often exchanged during Sinterklaas. They’re chocolates shaped in the first letter of the gift-receivers name. You can get them from any of the local supermarkets.
Another candy that starts popping up all through Lidl, Dekamarkt and Albert Heijn are the Sinterklaas Schuimpjes. These chewy candies are apparently meringues, although they don’t taste like the usual sort of meringue. Grab a packet of these colourful treats next time you’re shopping!
This is the Dutch version of gluwhein (or mulled wine) and is named after the ‘Bishop’ of Sinterklaas. Try out the recipe for this warming drink here.
Christmas in the Netherlands
Christmas celebrations in the Netherlands are fairly similar to other western countries and traditions, even though it’s only recently become more commonly celebrated. The Dutch like to put up Christmas trees and decorate their houses, give gifts and gather with family for a meal.
They call December 25 and 26 ‘First’ and ‘Second’ Christmas Day and will often spend time with their families on either or both days, celebrating with the traditional Christmas foods of meat and vegetables, with extras unique to the Dutch thrown in. Why not try some of these recipes for your own Christmas celebrations this year?
Dutch Festive Food and Drink at Christmas in the Netherlands
One of the traditional treats served during Christmas is this pastry filled with almond paste. Often shaped into letters, you can try the recipe here, or simply buy some at your local supermarket as soon as Christmas is on its way!
Jan Hagel Cookies
The Dutch certainly like to eat cookies during the festive period as here is another type, the Jan Hagel cookies flavoured with almonds, cinnamon and crystallized sugar. They can be cut into different shapes and served with ice cream as a dessert, or next to your cup of coffee. Recipe here.
Another type of cookie, kerstkranjes (Christmas wreath cookies) are made to decorate the Christmas tree, but also to eat! Slightly lemony, get the recipe here.
Kerststol is a bread made with dried fruits soaked in liqueur, and stuffed with almond paste. Lovely as part of your Christmas breakfast, or with coffee, try the recipe here.
A speciality from the northern province of Groningen, boerenjongens is a drink made with sultanas, brandy and spices. It is served with a spoon to eat the brandy-soaked sultanas, or they are scooped out and added to desserts. Try out the recipe here.
This traditional Dutch alcoholic drink can be enjoyed any time but is especially nice at Christmas. Sort of like very thick eggnog it can either be served with ice cream and/or cream as a dessert or on its own, but you’ll probably need a spoon. Get a recipe here.
New Years in the Netherlands
In the Netherlands, the New Year is celebrated on both ‘Old’ (December 31) and ‘New’ (January 1) Year’s Days, with different traditional activities.
On New Year’s Eve (or Old Year’s Day) people meet up with family and/or friends to bring in the celebration with food and drink, watching of the top 100 music countdown on televisions, and fireworks. Every man, woman, child and dog erupts onto the streets at midnight to release hundreds of thousands of shop-bought fireworks into the freezing night air. There are no rules or restrictions and the cacophony of explosions is truly a sight (and sound) to behold!
On New Year’s Day, a Dutch tradition is to take a New Year’s swim in the frigid cold waters of the North Sea. These swims take place all around the country, but the biggest is to be found at Scheveningen. It’s certainly one way to cure your hangover!
New Years food and drink in the Netherlands
The quintessential Dutch treat, these deep-fried balls (literally, oily-balls) are warm and delicious. Vans selling them will start popping up around the Netherlands from October onwards, but they are traditionally a New Year’s food. Grab a bag from a street vendor or get a recipe here.
Another delicious deep-fried treat traditionally served at New Year are these apple fritters (called appelbeignets or appelflappen). Sort of like a cross between an apple pie and a donut, you will rarely attend a Dutch New Year party without finding a plate of these alongside the oliebollen. Get the recipe here.
While the Dutch will drink any usual alcoholic drink to celebrate New Year, if you want to feel ‘really Dutch’ then why not try a coffee laced with Schelvispekel liqueur — a Dutch brandy that tastes like speculaas! Get a recipe here.
If you are brave enough to try the New Year’s Day swim then you will definitely need warming up later, so the traditional Dutch snert (split pea soup) is a hearty choice. This thick soup is made throughout the colder months but would be a perfect way to ring in the New Year, Dutch style! Try the recipe here.
What are your favourite festive Dutch foods? Let us know in the comments below!
Feature Image: NataliaD/Depositphotos
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on 10 November 2016 but was updated in November 2021 for your reading pleasure.