Christmas in the Netherlands: the merriest bits

Coming from Australia, Christmas in the Netherlands is definitely different. I’m used to a hot summer day, often spending most of Christmas trying every way possible to keep cool. Santa is wearing board shorts and everyone is outside. The beer is extra cold, the BBQ is working hard and everyone is enjoying the “no worries” mentality.

After moving to the Netherlands for love, I had to adapt to a new kind of Christmas. A different season, food and traditions. After some adjusting, I have enjoyed several Christmas’s in The Netherlands. Here are the most merriest bits for me.

Bringing home your Christmas tree by bike

Prior to my arrival, this would have made me laugh with disbelief. But, it is true! It is not uncommon to see people bringing home their Christmas tree by bike during the festive month of December. It has become a tradition in my household.

If I left the Netherlands, I would certainly miss this ritual — and the fact that anything can be done by bike here if you put your mind to it!

So many kisses

If you are visiting some Dutch Christmas parties, don’t forget about the three kisses greeting. This means when I visit my husband’s family of approximately 35 people, I will receive over 100 kisses. Now, that is merry!

Coronavirus update: Nope. No kisses at Christmas this year.

Indoor BBQ´s (gourmetten)

Obviously, I am used to an outdoor massive gas burner BBQ. So when I arrived at my first Dutch Christmas dinner, I was amazed. A long table was set up in a cosy Dutch living room with around 6 mini-indoor BBQ´s, known as gourmetten.

Basically, you sit down and barbeque mini delights at your own pace. It is a delightful food experience, even with all that smokiness filling the room!

Sinterklaas vs. Santa Claus

The Dutch celebrate their own tradition of Sinterklaas early in December. Sinterklaas is a bit similar to Santa Claus, except actually quite different. The concept of receiving presents is the same.

So, for my son who is Dutch/Australian, he will get to enjoy both of these jolly and cheerful traditions. That’s so much celebrating in the month of December and double the presents!

Deep-fried dough balls (oliebollen)

Olliebollen are a must-eat in Amsterdam
Delicious, delectable olliebollen. Image: Marjon Besteman-Horn/Pixabay. 

When December comes round, you will notice little food stands popping up with bright lights and selling Dutch delights known as Oliebollen. Oliebollen are deep-fried dough balls usually with raisins. Definitely, a lovely way to warm up on a cold winter’s day. They are best served with lots of icing sugar!

Drinking mulled wine

When I first heard about mulled wine, I was not impressed. Warm wine does not sound appealing, since coming from a warm country. However, after walking around in the cold, all rugged up and trying my first mulled wine, I understood! There is nothing like having frosty cheeks and warming your belly with some mulled wine in a cosy Dutch market.

Wondering if it will be a white Christmas

Cycling through snow takes some real skill! Image: Iris/Unsplash.

There is always the question if it will be a white Christmas. Every year, the hope is in the air, but unfortunately, often it is not! Usually, it would be more grey and raining, but still, it is cosy and warm inside.

Watching the bald trees dance in the wind is also charming at Christmas time. The feeling of hope that surrounds you is wonderful, so please- just let it snow!

Visiting Christmas markets

There are so many Christmas markets happening in the month of December. If you are not impressed by the Dutch Christmas markets, you can always travel an hour to Germany. They are known for some of the best Christmas markets in the world. Now, that’s close by, that’s handy!

Eating Cheese

It is always a good time to enjoy cheese, but Christmas is another chance to indulge! Visit a Dutch cheese shop and do some tastings. Pick your favourites and enjoy together with a good bottle of wine, pure delight! My Christmas table will consist of a cheese board- soft, firm, blue and sharp. Lekker!

Visiting typical Dutch bars (bruin café)

There is something about visiting a traditional Dutch bar (bruin café) in December. Maybe it is a combination of the darkness of the bar together with a few twinkle lights. The atmosphere is definitely festive and you can feel the Christmas spirit in the air!

Coronavirus update: Obviously, pubs with not be a thing this Christmas.


So, there you are the merriest bits of Christmas in the Netherlands! Merry Christmas — or fijne kerstdagen! As you Dutchies like to say 😉

Image: Jill Wellington/Pixabay
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in December 2018 and was fully updated in December 2020 for your reading pleasure. 

Vanessa Hope van Engelen
Vanessa is a quirky, 30 something year old from sunny Queensland, Australia. She recently completed a Bachelor of Communication, majoring in Public Relations. She has an infectious laugh that can travel through walls, a huge passion for traveling and cooking vegetarian food.


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