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Christmas in Holland

During the last weekend in November, “Sinterklaas” (aka Santa Claus, Father Christmas, and Saint Nicholas) arrives in Holland on a large steamboat from his home in Spain. Sinterklaas brings his white horse and dozens of helps called “Zwarte Piets” (Black Peters). The Zwarte Piets accompany Singerklaas to Amsterdam where they are all greeted by a large crowd of People.

The night before Sinterklaas Day (December 6th), children place their wooden shoes by the fireplace. In their shoes they put hay or carrots for Sinterklaas’s white horse. In the morning, good children will find gifts.

Sinterklaas wears bishop’s robe and miter, white gloves, and an enormous bishop’s ring on his left hand.

Another tradition in Holland is that farmers blow long horns at sunset each evening during the Christmas period. The horns are blown over water wells which makes the sound extremely loud. This is done to announce the coming of Christmas.

Christmas Day (December 25th) is celebrated more quietly by the family and by going to church. Christmas in Holland is most of all a religious event, spent with the family. Christmas trees can be found everywhere, in the houses, churches, shops and on the squares. The trees are often bought in the streets. In Amsterdam, for instance, flat bottomed vessels loaded with trees dock along the quays of the canals and you can see people walk away with the tree or branches of their choice for decoration.

St. Nicholas is a renowned national saint about whom there is no reliable history information. He is thought to have been Bishop of Myra (Turkey) in the fourth century. Nicholas is the patron saint of students, children, cities and countries. Since the 9th century St. Nicholas has been worshipped in Italy. In the legends which circulated about him in Holland Spain replaced Italy. That explains his Moorish servant Black Peter.

Nowhere in the world is the birthday of St. Nicholas celebrated as extensively as it is in Holland, by everyone, young or old. It is celebrated on 5 December, the eve of his actual birthday. Originally a feast for children, it has gradually become an occasion for the whole family, who exchange gifts which are usually accompanied by rhymes which mildly tease the recipient. Sometimes the presents are elaborately wrapped, making the unwrapping quite an adventure and a "surprise". Traditional sweets are eaten, including ginger-bread men and spiced biscuits.

Click here to learn more about Sinterklaas.

Traditional Dutch Recipes for the Holiday season:
[Please note that these are authentic recipes. Some of the measurements are in metric.]


A fritter recipe, often made on New Year's

1 envelope dry yeast
3 tbsp sugar
1/2 cup warm water
(Put yeast and sugar in warm water and soak 10 minutes)

2 well-beaten eggs
1/2 cups warm water
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp salt
4 cups flour
2 cups seedless raisins
3 apples, peeled and diced

confectioners' sugar to dust

Mix together yeast mixture and eggs, water, vanilla and salt, and add to flour slowly. Add fruit, let rise 1 1/2 hours. Drop in hot frying oil, dust with confectioners' sugar.


3/4 liter milk
1 tsp vanilla
35 g custard powder

Mix 1/4 cup of the milk with vanilla and heat slowly. Add rest of milk and custard powder according to package directions. Serve warm or cold in a soup plate with tart-flavoured berries. You can also swirl in thinned chocolate pudding for a nice effect.


2 medium apples
1 1/2 cups flour
3 1/2 tsps baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
6 tbsp granulated sugar, divided
1/4 cup margarine or butter
1 egg, well beaten
3/4 cup milk
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Peel and cut apples into eighths (wedges). Sift together flour, baking powder and salt with 4 tablespoons of the sugar. Cut in butter/margarine. Combine egg and milk and add to flour mixture. Turn batter into greased 8 inch square cake pan. Press apple wedges partly into batter. Combine remaining 2 tbsp sugar and cinnamon, sprinkle over apple. Bake at 425 degree F for 25 to 30 minutes. (Serves six)

Speculaas (Dutch Spice Cookies)

1 cup margarine or butter
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
1 1/2 tsps ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp salt
1 egg
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup finely chopped blanched almonds (optional)
Blanched whole almonds (optional)

Some Dutch/European specialty stores may have pre-mixed speculaas spice packages.

Beat margarine or butter with a mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds or by hand. Add brown sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, nutmeg, cloves and salt. Beat in egg and flour. Add chopped almonds if using. Roll dough to 1/8 inch thickness on a lightly floured board and cut into shapes (windmills and Sinterklaas/Santa shapes are traditional but we also cut them into the children's initials). Decorate with whole almonds if using. Place one inch apart on lightly greased cookie sheets. Bake in 350 degree F oven 8 to 10 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Cool 1 minute, transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Makes 4 to 6 dozen (depending on size.)


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