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Celebrations in Holland: Winter Holidays

This post is a continuation of a special series of posts entitled Celebrations in Holland.  You can read the first post about Sint Maarten hereThrough discussions with many new families who have recently arrived, we learned that it would be helpful to occasionally write posts on our site explaining Dutch customs and celebrations to help new parents get acclimated to Noord Holland.

The Winter Holidays 

The winter holidays are a wonderful time for many cultures throughout the world.  ESB is filled with students from just about everywhere, so we are a community rich with many celebrations and customs.

Initially we were surprised by the calendar/timeline of events and how it differed from what we were accustomed to. In Noord Holland the winter holiday season begins in late November after Sint Maarten celebrations conclude. The date may change slightly each year, but it is marked by the arrival of Sinterklaas to the Netherlands from Spain.  From then until December 5 is a magical time for children focused around Sinterklaas. Adults and extended families may also exchange gifts on the evening of December 5.

Christmas- which is described as a separate holiday- is celebrated on December 25 where families gather and share a meal, but gift giving is not the focus like it is for many other cultures on Christmas Eve or Day. New Year’s Eve ends the season marked with parties, local (personal/individual) fireworks and special foods.


Who/What is Sinterklaas

Sinterklaas is a main focus of this holiday. He, his white horse and helpers can be seen seemingly everywhere during this time. He and his “Zwarte Pieten” bring gifts to the children on December 5. Children can also leave carrots in their shoes by the door any evening after his arrival until December 5. When this is done, good children will be left a small trinket toy and/or Kruidnoten  in their shoes the next morning. During this time children can also watch how Sinterklaas is preparing for the big day on the television show, Sinterklaas Journal. You can also see daily videos and participate in activities on their website. 

I remember one year Sinterklaas Journal showed children how Sinterklaas encountered a big storm on his way from Spain. The programme showed presents spilled into the sea, and the big concern was whether Sint and his helpers would be able to find them all and deliver them in time. Each night there was an update on the whole ordeal, and at ESB, we even saw 1 or 2 packages floating in the canal by the school. My daughter noticed the package and the kids were filled with excitement when it was fished from the canal and delivered to Sinterklaashuis in Schoorl to be sure the child received their gift.

Parents and children alike cherish this time every year, and it is clearly an important part of growing up in the Netherlands. You can learn more about this celebration on the website Expatica in its post entitled “Parents Guide to Sinterklaas”.  The post explains the history and origin of the celebration’s figures, and elaborates on the discussion surrounding  how Zwarte Pieten are depicted.

Local Sinterklaas Festivals and Activities for Families

No matter where you live, there’s bound to be an event or activity for you and your family to take in the tradition of Sinterklaas. We searched high and low and collected a list of places and events in our area. Even if you are not able to visit one of these great places/events, primary children will have a visit from Sinterklaas himself right at school on Thursday, December 5 right after school begins. Parents are invited to stick around to welcome Sint on the primary playground after the bell rings (until about 9:15).


Sinterklaas’s Arrival
Sunday, 17 November
Bergen Plein/Ruinkerk
13:00 – 15:00

Klimduin, Duinvoetweg

Visit Sint and Pieten
Origin road 3
1871 HA Schoorl
Open 14 Nov – 4 Dec
11 a.m. to 4.30 p.m.
Admission is € 3.50.

Dinner with Sinterklaas and Pieten
Several Dates Available
Reserve your space


Sinterklaas’s Arrival
Saturday, 16 November
Wagplein, Alkmar
13:00 – 18:00

Schedule and Locations
13.00 Wagplein: Enjoy singing and dancing until the ship from Spain (via the Luttik Oudorp) arrives at 1.30 pm.
15:00 De Mare Shopping Center
16:45 – 18:00 MCA
More Information


Sinterklaas’s Arrival
Sunday, 17 November
Amsterdam Center
10:00 – 15:30

Schedule and Locations
Boat parade across the Amstel to the Maritime Museum
Parade through the city

Various activities take place between November 18 and December 5 in Amsterdam. Sint and Pieten visit sick children in hospitals, the Amsterdam Tower, Cordaan, refugees, the elderly and there is a school project. See the full schedule.


Sinterklaas’s Arrival
Saturday, 23 November
Raadhuisweg 8-10, 1851 JA Heiloo
11:00 – 12:45
More information and full route

Sint Judges the Coloring Competition
Stationscentrum, Heiloo
More Information and Download Coloring Sheets


Sinterklaas Party
Cultural Center De Strandwal
Het Kerkepad, 1851 Heiloo
More Information


Sinterklaas’s Arrival
Sunday, 17 November
De Gouden Engel, Kanaaldijk 235

More Information


Sinterklaas’s Arrival
Saturday, 23 November
Stadsplein, Heerhugowaard
10:00 – 16:00
More information and full route

New Year’s Eve (Oudejaarsavond)

As describes it in its blog entitled New Year’s Eve in Holland,

New Year’s Eve is a big party in Holland every year. Most people spend the evening with friends or family, watch the famous ‘New Year’s Eve conferences’ and drink plenty of champagne while eating greasy oliebollen (a traditional Dutch pastry: deep-fried dough balls with raisins) and apple beignets. Until the fireworks explode at midnight…

This summed up my experience celebrating New Year’s eve the past 3 years here. The fun, delicious treats and fireworks are what stick out in my memory. You can literally experience fireworks all around you on every street in the villages of Bergen and Alkmaar, and of course Amsterdam. I’ve never experienced so many fireworks going off above houses, stores, and in the middle of the street. It can be exhilarating and a bit scary if you have a young child. But you can also easily find ear protection and eye wear at local hardware stores for your youngster if you plan to celebrate amongst your neighbors. In fact, I highly recommend it. And don’t forget to take care of your pets if you live near the village center. If they are afraid of thunder and lightening, they will likely be firghtened on this evening. Expatica has written a great blog on how to prepare your pets for this evening.

So how big and how many are there? Well it does depend on where you live. For example, we only heard a few here and there in Schoorl, but in the village of Bergen it was non stop from 11:30 – 12:30 pretty much over the entire center. They are not the size or noise level of something you would see a municipality- provided show, but they are much bigger than anything I’ve experienced set off in someone’s back yard. Be warned and have fun!

Traveling over the holidays? That’s ok! The whole winter is a wonderful time in the Netherlands, and we could write many pages on all of the wonderful things to do and see. Here’s a great piece on winter things to do all winter long.

And please be safe and healthy, and have a joyous holiday season!

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Nicole GottholdCelebrations in Holland: Winter Holidays