23 tips to beat expat loneliness this holiday season

As we inch closer to winter, the holidays are on everyone’s minds. It’s looking like many expats will be unable to travel home to see their families, so how can internationals in the Netherlands find their holiday cheer this year?

Everyone’s lives will be impacted to some degree by the coronavirus pandemic this holiday season. Although the upcoming measures have not yet been finalised, experts and officials are already urging people to spend Christmas and New Year’s with only a small, close circle of family and friends, and recommending that people not travel abroad or even outside of their own regions.

For internationals, this advice might mean spending the holidays alone, or without your own close circle. Some may still be holding onto hope for a trip out of the country, but for those who have settled into the idea of laying low in the lowlands, there are still plenty of ways to get festive, even if you’re far from home. Who needs family when you have pepernoten, right? 

If you’re one of the many internationals spending the holidays in the Netherlands, we feel you — because we are you! So we’ve compiled 23 ideas of things you can do to help boost your holiday spirits this year. 

See the city lights

Stroll through the Christmas lights in the city — they’re sure to add a sparkle to your step.

Get in the Sinterklaas spirit

Celebrate Pakjesavond in the company of your flatmates or significant other and Zoom.

Have an “orphan” Christmas

Know any other internationals in the same boat? Invite them over for a (very) small holiday gathering! Remember to stay in line with the current corona measures

Treat yourself to Oliebollen

Stop by a street cart and get some warm oliebollen to-go. This delicious Dutch doughnut is a seasonal speciality.

Bring home to the Netherlands

Take a trip down memory lane with some of your favourite traditions from back home. From the US? Maybe string popcorn. Danish? Go for a solo dance around the Christmas tree! From Japan? Go ahead and order some KFC.

Gourmetten with your housemate

Indulge in enough meat, sauce, and wine to hold you over till next year. (Warning: not for the faint of heart.)

Embark on a new baking adventure 

Are there any traditional Dutch recipes you’ve been itching to try out? Perhaps a Christmas rollade?

Get crafty

Go for DIY Christmas tree and ornaments this year for some hands-on merry-making.

A virtual secret Santa

Organise a secret Santa, with a Zoom reveal party. Order gifts online in the country of the recipient if you’re running out of time. Online generators work wonders for this.

Practice your Dutch poetry

Coin your first Sinterklaas gedicht. Impress your Dutch friends by writing one of these unique holiday poems and take part in an important Dutch tradition!

Prepare a deluxe dinner

Cook up a Christmas feast and invite a few (four max!) friends to enjoy. 

Send snail mail

Make greeting cards by hand and catch up on some old fashioned correspondence.

Get guttural

Work on your Dutch by singing along with some classic Dutch Christmas tunes

Hang biscuits

Decorate your Christmas tree with some traditional kerstkransjes (circular cookies) — or just eat them straight out of the pack.

Give

Time, money, coats, blankets — if you have some to spare, donate to those in need.

Look ridiculous

Challenge your colleagues to an ugly sweater competition.

Design a family photo

Use Photoshop and some recent individual portraits to make your most awkward family photo yet. 

Make glühwijn

Mull your own wine. It’s easy! But don’t stop there — the Dutch sometimes boil down the glühwijn into a syrup for poached pears. Yes, please!

Hold a pub quiz

Take part in an online pub quiz with friends and family from afar. We’re loving Number 42 — and it streams straight from Eindhoven in English!

Festive cocktails with friends

Introduce your favourite holiday drink to some friends, either in person or online will do.

Watch Christmas movies

Watch a Christmas movie from your childhood. Or, try out a classic Dutch movie this year. They might not be very festive, but they’re a great way to get to know Dutch culture.

Do it twice

Don’t forget about second Christmas! December 26th you can do it all over again, just like the Dutch do!

Send a care package

Put together a package with your favourite Dutch treats and send it back home to your dear ones.


There’s no way around it — the holidays are going to be different this year. But remember, you’re not alone, we’re all in this weird thing together. Proost!

We want to hear from you! How do you plan to spend the holidays this year? Have any hot tips to add to the list?

Feature Image: Jill Wellington/Pixabay 

Brin Andrewshttp://brinandrews.com
Brin is an avid ice cream eater from the US, calling Amsterdam home since early 2019. As a lover of mountains, life below sea level has been a bit of an adjustment, but she manages to stay afloat with long runs, wine, and frequent travel. Incidentally, these are a few of her favourite topics to write about.

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