Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Wooden Shoes and Windmills

Do you know where we are? Think tulips, dykes, lots of water - We have arrived in Holland (aka The Netherlands). And I think I'm beginning to figure some things out about Christmas. But we'll save that for the round up of the trip.

What would you like to know? In the Netherlands Christmas celebrations begin on December 5th with Sinterklaas Avond (St. Nicholas Eve). Sinterklaas (Santa to us) sails from Spain to the Netherlands and mounts a white horse to visit the families. The children put out their shoes full of hay and sugar for Sinterklaas's horse and are usually rewarded with candy and small gifts. The emphasis is not on the gifts so much as it is on spending time with family.

December 6th is St. Nicolas Day and is celebrated with special family meals and gatherings. The next few weeks are spent decorating and preparing for Christmas Day itself. Decorations are kept relatively simple as the season is meant to focus on family. Trees are usually decorated much as we do here - with a mix of ornaments and themes.

Between the first Sunday of Advent and Christmas Eve farmers in the eastern part of the Netherlands practice an old tradition of Midwinter Horn blowing. At dusk each evening they go out to a well or other echoing area and blow a horn made from an elder tree to herald the coming of the Christ child and in some legends to scare away evil spirits.

Christmas itself is observed in two parts. On Christmas Eve families light the Christmas tree and attend church. On Christmas Day there is a large family meal and being together. Some of the traditional fare is venison, hare, goose or turkey served with Kerstbrood and Kerstkrans (Christmas loaf and ring). The second day of Christmas is spent together as a family with a play or other leisurely activities.

Right about now in out holiday preparations I am wondering why we (America) don't celebrate like the Dutch. It feels so laid back and relaxed. All of my reading led me to believe that the rush and hustle just wasn't there. It was all about family and resting and enjoying the good the year had brought. Something tells me that the Dutch may have figured out the Peace of the season.



het lieveheersbeestje said...

Hi Sarah!
I am from the Netherlands and just discovered your lovely blog. I live in a zoo too (we're six), so I might be learning from your blog also..
You discribed the celibrations very good in the Netherlands! My compliments! Only Sinterklaas is usualy for smal children and when adults give eachoter gifts the make rhymes with it to tease the other person for fun. Also Sint has loads of assistance, zwarte Piet, black peter. Who is funny and helps the old man to deliver the gifts. The children put one of their shoes at the heather-fire and put some food in it for the horse of Sint (apple, carrot), sing a Sinterklaas-song and when they wake up next day, there is something in the shoe!