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Celebrating the Holidays in the Netherlands

As December rolls in and the holiday season begins, it is time to start the winter festivities! Here is how I will be celebrating some of my favourite holidays.


Being half Dutch, Sinterklaas has always been a holiday we celebrate at home. Whether we were in Ethiopia or Azerbaijan, my sister and I always left our shoes under the chimney and sang Dutch Sinterklaas songs. The next morning, we would wake up to find our shoes filled with chocolate and gifts. Even when I was studying at my university in America, I always expected a special care package to arrive full of delicious treats. Wherever we lived: my parents made sure that the tradition continued.

However, I never truly experienced the authentic Sinterklaas celebration until I moved back to the Netherlands this fall. Since arriving here, I have discovered so many new aspects to the holiday. Whereas at home we always celebrated Sinterklaas only on December 5th, I realized that the festivities actually begin much earlier! The celebration truly commences on November 18, when Sinterklaas arrives on his steamship from Spain. This year, I was so determined to watch him arrive, that I dragged my sister to the Willemsplein port in Rotterdam. Once he docked at the harbour, Sinterklaas got onto his white horse and rode across the city along with his Pieten. 

Another great revelation I discovered, is that 'pepernoten' actually come in all different flavours! When we lived abroad, Sinterklaas would always leave the original pepernoten in our shoes along with chocolate letters and other traditional treats. However, after going to Albert Heijn a few weeks ago, I found out that many other flavours existed, including: chocolate, caramel and stroopwafel. When visiting Utrecht with my friends, I also discovered the Van Delft Pepernotenfabriek where the pepernoten came in unique flavors like pina colada and liquorice! Since making this discovery, chocolate covered pepernoten have become my new obsession.

To celebrate Sinterklaas, my friends and I have organized a class party. Just like for Christmas, we will be playing Secret Santa (Sinterklaas in this case). Using the site lootjestrekken, it was easy to anonymously draw pairs for all participants. To play the game, everyone will purchase a small gift and write a poem for their assigned person. Then on the day of the party, we will convene and place the gifts and poems in a pile in the center. One by one, we will exchange the gifts and read the poems out loud. Along with the gift exchanges, we will also have Sinterklaas treats for everyone to share.


Just like for Sinterklaas, my family has always celebrated Thanksgiving wherever we go. Although we have yet to master the art of stuffing and cooking a turkey, we have always found a way to enjoy a meal together. Whether it be a restaurant or at home, the most important part of the holiday is to be surrounded with people you love and be thankful for what you have been given. 

I celebrated the holiday in two ways this year. With my family, we went to the Thanksgiving buffet at the Leiden Holiday Inn. Because Thanksgiving meals are my favourite, the buffet was the perfect excuse for me to stuff myself with turkey and potato casseroles. The second way I celebrated, was through a Friendsgiving with some of my classmates from university. The meal was a potluck where everyone brought their own traditional dishes. By cooking and hosting together, the Thanksgiving meal was much easier to make and more affordable. If you are planning a similar festivity, here are the 10 Commandments of Friendsgiving. These ten tips are sure to make your Friendsgiving the best yet!

Happy Holidays!

Wherever you go, there is always a way to celebrate your favourite holiday. If you are surrounded by friends and family, every celebration will be the perfect one. These were some of the ways I celebrated Sinterklaas and Thanksgiving. What are your holiday plans?

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