Christmas in the Netherlands: your guide to Dutch holiday foods and celebrations

How do Dutchies celebrate the most wonderful time of the year?🎄

For expats in the Netherlands, December is a confusing time. Saint Nicolas, who? What about the Christmas Man (kerstman)?

Does Christmas fall on December 6 or the 25? And what about all the festive food items in Albert Heijn? When does one consume what?

So. Many. Questions. Here are the answers.

The Dutch holiday season starts early

Christmas Day falls on December 25, plain and simple in most places. The celebration consists of copious amounts of food and drinks shared with your closest friends and family. Proost!

A few begin their festivities on Christmas Eve, usually at the local church, for a once-yearly session of midnight mass. Unfortunately, that’s all the excitement they’ll get, unlike the Dutch.

sinterklaas-arrives-to-the-netherlands-by-boat
Dutch holiday celebrations start when Sinterklaas and his controversial helpers arrive in she Netherlands. Image: Depositphotos

Here in the Netherlands, the chances for a celebration are infinite. Everything from Sinterklaas (Saint Nicolas Day) and Kerstnacht (Christmas Eve) to Kerstdag (Christmas Day) and Tweede Kerstdag (Boxing Day, translated literally to “Second Christmas Day”).

It seems a bit excessive, doesn’t it? But you wouldn’t say nee if several oliebollen were put in your face. Wat een feest (what a celebration)! 🎉

Dutch December holidays

Getting lost in the celebrations? Let’s give you an overview.

Pakjesavond/Sinterklaas, December 5

Sinterklaas falls on the eve of Saint Nicolas Day. It’s the main celebration and is basically the Dutch version of Christmas Eve.

Lots of Sinterklaas-related food items are eaten around this time, such as chocolate letters, pepernoten and marzipan figurines.

sinterklaas-arrives-in-the-netherlands
The kids love him. Image: Depositphotos

Sint Nicolaasdag, December 6

Most of the Netherlands enjoys the excitement of receiving presents the evening before Sint Nicolaasdag. Who wouldn’t?

READ MORE | The complete guide to writing a top Sinterklaas poem

Do note that Saint Nicolas died on 6 December (it’s not his birthday). He was the patron saint of not only children, but also of repentant thieves, sailors, archers, merchants, brewers, pawnbrokers, and even, students in various European countries.

Kerstnacht, December 24

Time to go to church. After midnight mass, families often go home and have a midnight snack or ‘breakfast’ which is eaten in the early morning hours, arriving home after Christmas Day has broken.

holiday-christmas-netherlands-toddler
Time to get cosy by the Christmas tree. Image: Pixels

Kerstdag, December 25

Family time! Duchies have kerststol for breakfast, which is similar to a hot cross bun but with an extra almond spice surprise filling running in the middle for a loaf of excitement.

Dinner is as close to ‘fine dining’ as the Dutch can get, epitomized by the cosy, hands-on, self-cooking, raclette-styled gourmetten.

READ MORE | The ultimate Dutch Christmas playlist

As a small, sweet afterthought, you can nibble on a piece of kerstkrans, a Dutch almond Christmas pastry ring, which is cut into small strips of ever-decreasing thickness, so that the whole extended family is able to indulge.

Tweede Kerstdag, December 26

Dutch Boxing Day is spent eating leftovers, often with the family who couldn’t make it on Christmas day. A slow and gentle stroll is taken mid-day to ease the tightness of bellies from eating too much hearty, home-made food.

Most shops in the Netherlands are closed on 26 December, showing continuing Dutch resistance to the tradition of spending quality time together as 22 million British families do during Boxing Day sales.

photo-of-a-snowy-road-in-Amsterdam
If you’re lucky there may even be some snow! Image: Depositphotos

Holiday foods in the Netherlands

The holiday season is also the season of lekker foods (and way too much of it). Here’s what you can expect:

Oliebollen

This is a Christmas food that pops up spontaneously in many oliebollenkramen (food carts) throughout the months of November and December.

The oliebol is a Dutch version of the doughnut, drowned in powdered sugar. You usually have a choice between chocolate-filled dough balls, apple and cinnamon, or even raisins (yuck!).

The deep-fried balls are thrown in so much oil that the literal translation of oliebol is “oil ball”. They are eaten all month long but typically on Christmas Eve.

Traditional-dutch-oliebollen-for-new-years-looking-tasty
Lekker! Image: Freepik

Kerstkransjes 

These are small wreaths made from chocolate cookies, fondant or meringue, and are usually hung on the Christmas tree ready to be eaten sporadically through the month of December.

Don’t confuse these with kerstkrans! Those are large cake-sized pastries which shouldn’t be hung on your tree. 😂

Advocaat

This is the Dutch version of eggnog, which is so thick you have to eat it with a miniature spoon. It’s usually eaten around Christmas time. You’ll love it!

Looks questionable, but trust us: it’s delicious. Image: Pixabay

Ready to experience your very own Dutch Christmas? We wish you a very merry fijne Kerst!

What are your plans for the holidays? Tell us in the comments below. 

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in December 2016 and was fully updated for your reading pleasure in December 2023.

Feature Image:Pixabay

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What do you think?

4 COMMENTS

  1. Who are you to juge in such a crude manner the Dutch food ? It is what it is, cook and eat what you are used to and avoid to criticize so publicly .

  2. It’s 2023 and the article has been recently updated yet there’s still a picture of Black Pete being used for the Sinterklaas section. This is no longer an accurate representation of the holiday as it has changed over the recent years.

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