Ten Dutch Traditions

Sinterklaas

This is the feast of Saint Nicholas (Sint Nikolaas) and is one of Holland’s traditional Winter tradition for families, especially those with young children. Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of children, sailors and the capital city of Amsterdam, and is the inspiration behind the Santa Claus known in the Western world. In the Netherlands, the holiday is celebrated on the evening before Sinterklaas’ birthday on December 5. There is gift-giving for children, singing and eating of traditional Dutch food like pepernoten and cookies made with cinnamon and close.

Koninginnedag

The Queen’s day is a day of celebration and holiday in the Netherlands. This is celebrated in honour of the Queen’s birthday, her Royal Highness Queen Juliana on April 30 and is referred to by the Dutch as a day of “national unity and togetherness.” In some cities, the celebrations start during the eve of the Queen’s birthday called Koninginnenacht (the Queen’s Night). All over Holland, there are markets put up, musical performances all throughout the day and parades on the streets and on the canals. The largest celebration can be found in the capital city of Amsterdam. Then there is the Queen’s Dance in Rotterdam and the Queen’s Night in The Hague. People dress up in the color orange for the last name of the royal family.

Dutch Carnival

Similar to the world-famous Carnivals in South America, Holland has its own version of this religious celebration in the streets, although not observed throughout the country. In the Netherlands it is called “Karnaval,” “Vastenavond,” or “Vastelaovend” and celebrated the day before Ash Wednesday. The Carnival is mostly celebrated in Roman Catholic regions such as the southern provinces of Noord Brabant and Limburg, Maastricht, Roermont, Eindhoven and Breda. Parades where people come in colorful costumes and dance in the streets are usually seen during the festivities.

New Year Celebration

To welcome the start of the new year, the people of Holland clean their houses – a sign of purification and starting all over again. An old tradition is to carry around burnt juniper branches around the house to rid it of any germs and diseases. The families light bonfires, sign songs and eat traditional New Year food such as currant loaves, scones and New Year black buns accompanied by wine and cordials.

Liberation Day

“Freedom Day” for the Dutch is a special holiday to commemorate the end of World War II when the Nazi forces surrendered the Netherlands back. In Amsterdam and the other provincial capitals, this holiday is celebrated on a bigger and grander scale every five years.

Other Dutch traditions that are not centered on specific days of the year are the following:

Wedding Traditions

An old traditional Dutch tradition is on the eve of the wedding day, the guests would go to the bride’s house. There they would partake of “bruid suikas”, sweetmeat and spiced wine. After the wedding rites, the bride and the groom would sit under a canopy of evergreens where they will wait to receive the guests with their warm wishes and gifts. Afterwards, there will be singing and a silver bowl filled with brand and raisins is passed around. 

Birthday Traditions

Birthdays are important for the Dutch people, and certain years are celebrated as “crown years.” The ages of 5, 10, 15, 20 and 21 are considered to be hallmark years in the life of an individual and the birthday boy or girl receives a particularly big gift and a celebration on such ages. The Dutch have the tradition of a birthday chair. The celebrator is made to sit on this chair which is decorated by his or her family and friends. 

Food and Drink

Traditional Dutch cuisine is fairly simple and limited in variety. A staple of a traditional Dutch meal is potatoes, eaten together with either a meat dish or vegetables. Holland however is proud of its dairy products, especially the cheese.  Every region in the country produces its own variety of cheese and Dutch cheese is exported everywhere around the world. The more popular Dutch cheeses are the Edam, Gouda, and Leiden varieties. Coffee is also an important part of a day in the life of a Dutch person. The midday coffee break is a sacred tradition, even amongst city workers. Other traditional Dutch drinks are Jenever, Brandewijn and the Dutch bier.

Music

There is a variety of influences and traditions in Dutch music – from folk, jazz, pop, classical music, punk, Boerenrock (farmers’ rock), rap to Indie rock. The more traditionally acknowledged Dutch music is known as “Levenslied,” folk songs of love, death and loneliness. Dutch folk music is customarily characterized by simple rhythms and catchy melodies. 

Dance and Costume

Like its music, the dances in the Netherlands are of great variety. There’s the salsa courtesy of the Surinamese and Dutch Antillean immigrants, line dance, classical ballet, jazz and Ice dance. The traditional Dutch folk dance is typically known to  be done with clogs, although clogs are worn as work shoes by farmers.

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