Christmas Crash Course in the Netherlands

8 December 2014

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Now that the yuletide season is underway, I would like to impart some expat insider knowledge on how the Dutch celebrate Christmas. Although from the periphery the Christmas celebrations might seem intimately familiar for American sensibilities, there are some key differences that make it distinctly Dutch. Here are the following essential highlights of a Dutch Christmas:

 

Spread the Christmas cheer.

The Christmas spirit is actually spread over two and a half days, from the eve of the 24th of December till the 26th of December. The pragmatic Dutch (and may other European countries) discovered the practicality of having two designated holidays on the 25th (Eerste Kerstdag, First Christmas Day) and the 26th of December (Tweede Kerstdag, Second Christmas Day). By officially having two and a half days of festivities, the Dutch are much more relaxed and able to really party like it’s Jesus’ birthday.

 

It’s all about the gezelligheid, hoor.

Gezelligheid is an untranslatable abstract Dutch noun which encompasses the feelings one gets when they spend time with loved ones, reuniting with someone after an absence, and/or general togetherness that gives you warm and fuzzy feelings. It’s all about warmth, coziness, and a sense of belonging. Gezelligheid is the focal point of any Dutch home and most prized during the holidays. Gezelligheid during the Christmas season brings “light” to the hearts of many Dutch people. This is quite important because it’s literally the darkest time of the entire year – there is an average of only three hours of sunlight in December. Hoor is another untranslatable Dutch word that suggests to “listen up closely”. 

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No gifts, bah humbug.

Gifts are traditionally not exchanged on any of the Christmas days. The gift giving happens on the feast of Saint Nicholas (Sinterklaas) on December 5th or 6th. Christmas, to many Dutch, is all about gezelligheid, love and nurturing the ties that bind. However, to the chagrin and dismay of many traditionalists, the American gift giving Santa Claus is slowly, but surely infiltrating into the Dutch psyche. Like all children who love receiving presents, Dutch children are more than happy to embrace the American version of old Saint Nick. Double the presents (December 6th and December 25th), double the fun. Since my son is half-American and half-Dutch, he can expect presents on both days.

 

O Dennenboom, O Dennenboom.

Like the rest of the world that celebrates Christmas, the Dutch also have Christmas trees. According to my Dutch husband, the Christmas tree is usually put up the day after Sinterklaas to keep the two holidays separate. There’s also a prevailing preference to buy a real Christmas tree as opposed to the plastic kind. And for the ever so conscientious Dutch person, there’s also a program where you can “borrow” a tree and replant it back into the forest.

 

It’s a family affair.

While Christmas is traditionally a Christian affair commemorating the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, it is becoming more about a family holiday in many Dutch households. While some families attend the Christmas Eve mass, many others enjoy a three hour seated dinner, hopefully a sprinkling of good conversations, and possibly some board games. Even non-Christians hold Christmas close to their hearts and consider it an important family holiday to be together.

 

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Prepare yourself for a culinary extravaganza.

The stereotypical Dutch, who pride themselves on being thrifty, throw caution in the wind and put a lot of effort in preparing a culinary extravaganza. Depending on a Dutch family’s personal preferences, variations of an elaborate Christmas meal include: a four-five course meal prepared days in advance, often consisting of game meats such as turkey, venison, goose, or hare; fondues of different cheeses, vegetables and/or meats; and gourmetten – grilling at the table where everyone can cook bite-sized pieces of luxury meats and vegetables to their heart’s content. The festivities continue with a Christmas brunch the next day where one can enjoy Christmas stollen (round bread with currents and raisins), various almond sweets, bread rolls, pates, smoked salmon, cured meats and different cheeses. Other typical Dutch Christmas treats that may make guests appearances are: Duivekater (a sweet festive bread), Kerstkransjes (Christmas wreath cookies), Kerstkrans (wreath shaped pastries glazed with different fruits and filled with almond paste, like a round banketstaaf), Jan Hagel cookies (fragrant and flaky Christmas cookies), Kerststol (fruited Christmas loaf), and Banketstaaf (pastry logs with sweet almond paste).

 

Christmas markets.

Part of the Dutch Christmas time gezelligheid are the various Christmas markets. Here people can buy Christmas wreaths, candles, and various Christmas decorations to bring “light” and good cheer to the holiday festivities. And of course, they can start purchasing the specialty ingredients for the Christmas meals. The charm of these Christmas markets is also that many stalls are a home-grown affair selling things made by local food artisans, craftsmen, florists and other artists.

 

Dreaming of a White Christmas and ice-skating.

A lot of Nederlanders dream of having a snowy, white Christmas (just like any other place that seasonally snows during this time of the year). Before the advent of global warming, many can look forward to some outdoor ice-skating on natural ice as part of the family festivities. With the uncharacteristic weather conditions the Netherlands has currently been experiencing this year, we might possibly get our wish to have a white Christmas with iceskating. And then we can all eat a healthy bowl of erwtwensoep (Dutch split pea soup) and a warm cup of hot chocolate with whipped cream.

 

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Here’s to wishing everyone a prettige kerstdagen (merry Christmas days)!

christmas in different lands 2014
 

This post is part of the Multicultural Kid Blogs ‘Christmas In Different Lands’ series. Each day of December up until the 25th a different blogger around the world will share a part of their family Christmas. Check back each day for seasonal inspiration, from crafts to recipes, family traditions and more!

 

Secret Caravan

25 November 2014

I’m so excited to introduce my first sponsored post from one of my own lovely readers, Maria-Eleni from Secret Caravan.

 

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When I first browsed her online store Secret Caravan, I instantly fell in love. With the back of my mind preparing for Sinterklaas and Christmas, I was drawn to the beautiful, whimsical toys, thoughtful reading material, and useful travel aids. Their online store offered products that evoked all the qualities I would love to give my friends and family – thoughtful, unique, useful and with a dash of quirkiness.

 

Question: Hello! Please tell us about your family and Secret Caravan.

Answer: My husband, Giannis and I (Maria-Eleni) live just outside of Athens with our three year old son Ermis. Giannis and I both have creative backgrounds. In fact, it’s how we first met and fell in love. Six years later we decided to start a new adventure. Launched in the summer of 2014, Secret Caravan was inspired by our family’s desire to live a simpler lifestyle. We believe in living with intention, appreciating the small things and discovering the world around us. We wanted to create a store where we can share that philosophy with others. Every single item that we sell in our store we handpicked and we own ourselves.

 

When I heard that they owned every single item from their store, I couldn’t resist asking for snap shots of their home. I had a sneaking suspicion that it would evoke warmth, simplicity, style and gratitude. I was right. Here are the pictures :

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Their home reminds me of the old-age adage of William Morris, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

 

Q: With the holiday season right around the corner, what are some of the gifts that you guys recommend to my readers? Can you give suggestions based on the spirit of the simple gift giving philosophy: something they need, something for them to read, and something they want?

 

Secret-Caravan

Something they need:

How To Find Old New York

Owen Fox

A Pastry For Your Thoughts – Notebook

 

Something for them to read:

Kindling Quarterly No. 4

Maps

Gather Journal No 5

 

Someting they want:

Rock the Shack

Up to the Moon Puzzle

Handmade Statement Necklace

 

Finding Dutchland readers get a special discount of 15% with the code FD2014 until December 10, 2014.

You can connect with Secret Caravan on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.

7 Inspirational TED Talks for Moms

24 November 2014

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I often get asked what inspired me to start blogging. Being a new mom in a new neighborhood in a foreign country contributed to a special level of loneliness. As an entrepreneur’s wife, it also meant a lot of nights being home alone with a sleeping baby and nothing but the internet (read = Facebook mommy groups, the Huffington Post and Scary Mommy) and books to keep me company.

 

I created my blog Finding Dutchland in the summer of 2013 with some general goals: to aid in personal self-growth, to connect with other moms, and to share my experience as a parent in the Netherlands. I never imagined that more than a handful of people would actually read what I had to share. But what actually gave me the impetus, the final push to set-up my WordPress blog, was watching these seven inspirational TED talk videos.

 

Chances are that you already are familiar with TED, but for those who are not, the premise of TED (originally an acronym for technology, entertainment and design) is that it’s a “platform for ideas worth spreading.” The TED organizers “believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and, ultimately, the world.” And since the best things in life are free, anyone can access these captivating talks about socio-economics, science, philosophy and technology online, anytime and from the convenience of their homes.

 

What I love most about the TED talks is that they not only challenge conventional wisdom, but also create momentum. This isn’t surprising when you have a thought leader presenting his or her life’s work and passion with an enthusiastic live audience that is curious and hungry to learn. And all talks conducted within twenty minutes or less.

 

I’ve compiled a list of seven TED talks with young moms like me in mind – the moms up late at night, nursing or cradling their babies back to sleep; the moms in the thick of those early years when real life isn’t Pinterest perfect; and moms who yearn for a little more intellectual discourse than the babble of babies and toddlers. It’s also a great parenting source, providing interesting ideas that one can apply to his or her own parenting philosophy.

 

These TED talks are captivating for anyone who is on the cusp of self-discovery and needs a friendly push to live a more honest life true to their heart’s calling. Or for anyone needing a feel-good inspirational talk in the middle of the night. Their words help guide me to be the writer, mother, wife and person I aspire to be. I hope that they speak to you the way they’ve spoken to me.

 

1. Chimamanda Adichie : The Danger of a Single Story

This was the TED talk that encouraged me to write. Through Adichie’s soulful prose, I was inspired to share my story as a Filipino-American mother living in the Netherlands.

 

2. Brené Brown: The Power of Vulnerability

Brené Brown’s “The Power of Vulnerability” is arguably the most therapeutic TED talk that exists. Warning – it can lead to lots of tears and the start a lot of healing. There’s even an amazing Facebook group if any of you are interested in getting more valuable life lessons from her. Following her advice made me a whole lot happier.

 

3. Sir Ken Robinson: How Schools Kill Creativity

Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk “How Schools Kill Creativity” is the most viewed TED talk ever. He makes a compelling case for designing an education system that nurtures – rather than stifles – creativity. As a firm believer that education begins at home, it’s never too early to start learning about the educational system and opportunities available for our young ones. It’s where I learned the importance of play.

 

4. Jill Bolte Taylor: My Stroke of Insight 

Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor asks us to rexamine our life and all the negativity that we impose on ourselves and everything and anyone around us around us.

 

5. Shane Koyczan: To This Day … For the Bullied and Beautiful

Unfortunately, bullying isn’t just restricted to the school classroom. It can happen anywhere and everywhere, behind closed doors at home, and on the internet. Nonetheless, listen to the words of Shane Koyczan as we create a safer world for us and our children.

 

6. Rita Pierson: Every Kid Needs a Champion

I wish every single child will come across a teacher like Rita Pierson at least once in their life as their champion. Teachers are our society’s unsung heroes.

 

7. Sarah Kay: If I Should Have A Daughter

I can just fall into the spoken words of poet and educator Sarah Kay. She brilliantly describes the mother I aspire to be for my child(ren). It’s no wonder how she got two standing ovations during her TED talk.

 

 

Attending a TED conference one day is on my bucket list. Until then, I’ll be busy sharing the lessons of Dutch kids growing up happy – an idea that is definitely worth spreading.

Black Pete Through The Eyes of a Mother

20 November 2014

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Sinterklaasje kom maar binnen met je knecht want we zitten allemaal even recht (Sinterklaas do come inside with your servant because we’re all sitting straight).joyfully sing young children with their parents.

“Zwarte Piet is racisme (Black Pete is racism)!scream the angry protestors.

 

My adopted country, The Netherlands, is suffering from serious social discord and an international relations nightmare. Journalists love to describe the tension as an increasingly acrimonious debate. It’s more akin to a cultural war.

 

This past weekend, when Saint Nicholas (Sinterklaas) and Black Pete (Zwarte Piet) were officially welcomed to The Netherlands by the city of Gouda, 90 people were arrested. Gouda failed to placate the anti-Pete protestors with the introduction of Stroopwafel (Waffle cookies filled with caramel-like syrup) Petes, Cheese Petes and White Petes and infuriated the pro-Pete demonstrators with changing the appearance of Black Pete.

 

What is essentially lost among the headlines is the gross violation of a festivity centered around young children. We’re talking about the six and under crowd here – the toddlers and preschooler children. They, most of whom are highly intuitive, had to witness the protesting, the scuffles, and the presence of riot police.

 

And like any natural reaction of a parent, I too am deeply hurt and disappointed.  The protesting reveals the utter disregard and respect for the magic and fleeting innocence of young children. Suffice to say, I’m having my Tiger mommy moment.

 

For fifteen months now I’ve been playing the part of the Asian-American storyteller in Holland, embracing and settling into an easy compromise of an Asian, American and European way of life. Though being a foreigner may at times be lonely and challenging, I have chosen to focus on the bigger picture.

 

And in our Dutched reality, we’re among the many people in the Netherlands able to pursue fulfilling careers and enjoy domestic lives. We’re fortunate to live in a society that not only says it values children, but actually provides a societal structure that does: part-time work, private maternity nurses, free health care coverage and dental care for all children, childcare subsidies and education. Our children (Dutch kids) are happy.

 

And unlike the United States, there is no real danger in being a person of color.

 

We generally don’t have the kind of violence against strangers and amongst each other endemic in America. I would know about it. When I was nine years old, my twenty-six year old uncle, whom I was very close to, died of gunshot wounds.

 

So I write from the perspective of an Asian-American raised in the multicultural San Francisco Bay Area, educated at one of America’s most liberal and progressive universities, the University of California, Berkeley, as a daughter of immigrant Filipino parents who inherited my parents dark brown skin, black hair, dark brown eyes and short stature, as a wife to a not-so-typical Dutch man, and a mother of a two year old boy who is enamored with life, including Sint and Piet.

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In Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk The Danger of a Single Story, she teaches that “The single story creates stereotypes and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

 

And like Adichie confesses, I too am guilty of believing and perpetuating the single story.  There are several features of this iconic Black Pete that naturally grate on my American sensibilities – the black face paint, gold earrings, bright red lips, afro wigs, the Renaissance style page costume and the clownish, playful banter and antics. Observing from the periphery, I make the connection between the Dutch past of colonialism, slavery and racists stereotypes with Black Pete. I wonder how a racist stereotype  continues to prevail in a country renowned for (and proud of) its progressive ideals and tolerance.

 

Ironically, the stereotype of Black Pete being a racist caricature, is the one story that prevails in the media. It is the story of a white Dutch majority continuing a blackface tradition which oppresses, disregards and disrespects the feelings of the colored minority. Taken completely out of cultural context, it isn’t surprising why British comedian and actor Russell Brand coined the holiday as a colonial hangover.

 

And yet, I find my skepticism and frustration over this holiday tradition softening thanks to a myriad of ordinary events and light-bulb moments. I reflect on my interactions with Dutch people who love the tradition – from the kindhearted, middle-aged preschool teachers who adore my son; the helpful, welcoming neighbor who has been playing the role of Sinterklaas for the past forty years; the many colored minorities, both who have grown up here and recently immigrated, who also absolutely love the tradition and see nothing wrong with the Black Petes; and my readers who patiently explained to me their perspective and about the history of their feast of Saint Nicholas (this speaks volumes because I am a hard-headed woman).

 

They are all part of the population living in the Netherlands that lovingly declare “Black Pete, c’est moi .” Black Pete, that is me. It is spoken with self-love and pride. They represent the 82% of 27,000 Dutch people polled by EenVandaag Opinion who do not want Black Pete to change.

 

But the biggest eye-opening experience I had and that made me finally have a change of heart (or more accurately, less judgemental) is witnessing my two-year-old son. He is absolutely crazy with Sinterklaas and Black Pete. Bless his heart as he bursts into random song and dance, singing the only line he could muster to say, “Sinterklaas kapoentje…”. For the record, my two year old doesn’t care about the actual color of Pete – he’s simply infatuated with the sweets and presents. As long as the candy and presents keep coming, his heart is open to all different kinds of Petes.

 

The love, care and attention to detail that all the Dutch adults around him create to foster this magical fairytale of a saint and his helpers would make any outsider envious. The American approach to Santa Claus pales in comparison to the concerted efforts of the Dutch and their Sinterklaas.

 

And for the first time, amidst his infectious enthusiasm, I finally realized that to many Dutch people, Sinterklaas and Black Pete are their erfenis. Erfenis is roughly translated in English as inheritance and heritage. The Dutch culture considers inheritance not only the physical passing of wealth from one generation to another, but also heritage – one’s history, traditions, culture and identity. Black Pete is their heritage, their birthright and it transcends color lines.

 

If I intend to raise my son with an open mind, to teach him about kindness, I too must have an open mind, be kind myself, and make a genuine effort to learn about another perspective. I have to practice what I preach.


In the process of us rejecting a single story, we start acknowledging that we are all Dutch regardless of the color of our skin. Both foreigners and native Dutch have a voice and a responsibility to continue this wonderful children’s tradition because at the very heart of this contentious adult debate is a festival centered around the innocence and wonder of young children.

 

It’s time that we all stop yelling, name-calling, ostracizing and shaming and start listening and respecting other people’s stories. As Adichie so brilliantly shares: “That when we reject the single story, when we realize that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise.”

 

I too am hoping that we can keep the magic of Sinterklaas, where ever our culture takes us. Culture, after all, isn’t stagnant. It directly reflects the beliefs, customs and ways of thinking of a particular society – Sinterklaas and Black Pete included. I simply ask that we find more appropriate venues for expressing our opinions (both for and against Black Pete) other than a children’s festival.

Here’s to Finding Dutchland, where ever you may be.

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(Photos taken on 16 November 2014 during the annual Sinterklaas parade in Utrecht, The Netherlands)

Mr Miles-Fastest Traveler in the World (Flying Blue Competition)

17 November 2014

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Hey lovely readers! I’m giving you guys a heads up on an awesome promotion on this beautiful Monday of the 17th of November.  Flying Blue, the frequent travel program of Air France and KLM, is holding a giveaway of 5 million miles in 10 days.

 

When they reached out to me to promote this competition, I immediately said yes.  I’ve always been someone who would rather spend money on experiences than things. Travel is one of the most valuable life experiences you can have. As the Atlantic article Buy Experiences, Not Things suggests, collecting experiences rather than material possessions really does contribute to a better sense of well-being.

 

If you are following my blog, than chances are you also have a soft spot for travel too and would love this competition. Plus, in the spirit of the Dutch cultural value of being thrifty and loving free things, this competition giving away up to 5 million air miles sounds like a sweet deal.  How awesome would it be than to have a chance at winning free air miles to help you travel more?

 

The premise of the competition is fun and easy. Mr Miles – the fastest traveler in the world, is challenging you to try to get to any of 100 destinations before him.


How can you join?

 

Head out to beforemistermilesin.com to get your “e-passport” (Register for the competition).

 

Chose any destination by changing the extension of the URL.

 

If you landed before Mr Miles, congratulations, you just won a prize (between 500 & 200.000 Miles). And if he’s already there, don’t worry – he’ll make you feel welcomed very quickly and you can always try again.

 

There are also 3 sweepstakes of 200.000 & 500.000 Miles (basically 4 world tours tickets), so might as well try and look in as many destinations as you can.

Helpful tip: For a chance to get ahead of him, follow his clues on Twitter (@FlyingBlueMrM) or Snapchat (@FlyingBlueMrM)

Here’s an entertaining video explaining the competition:

 

 

Wishing everyone the best of luck!

7 Reasons Sinterklaas Rocks

13 November 2014

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Wie komt er alle jaren, daar heel uit Spanje varen? Over de grote, grote zee, Sint Nicolaas, hoezee!” sing Dutch children along with their parents.

The excitement in the air is palpable. Dutch children wait in anticipation with their parents for the coming of their beloved Saint Nicholas (Sinterklaas). All the villages, towns and cities throughout the Netherlands will have a Sinterklaas parade this weekend to welcome his arrival. For the next few weeks, the Netherlands will be transformed into a magical place where even adults buy into the Dutch fairytale of Sinterklaas.

In light of all the current negativity surrounding this beloved Dutch children’s holiday, let’s not forget about all the positive attributes of the feast of Saint Nicholas (Sinterklaas). Here are seven friendly and cheerful reminders of why Sinterklaas rocks:

 

Sinterklaas rocks because he gives gifts to everyone on the eve of his birthday.

On the evening of December 5th, known as “Pakjesavond” (Presents Night), which is also the night before Sinterklaas’ birthday (December 6th), Sinterklaas drops off presents through the chimney with his helpers. How awesome and generous is that? Santa Claus doesn’t give gifts on his birthday. Do we even know when Santa’s birthday is?

 

Sinterklaas rocks because he is non-sectarian.

Contrary to American urban legend, Sinterklaas is not a Christmas tradition. Although Sinterklaas wears a red-and-gold cloak and miter of a Catholic bishop, the Dutch consider him as a kind old man who gives presents to children. Hence Dutch people of all ages and beliefs welcome him with open arms and celebrate the day devoid of any religious connotations, depth or meaning. Sinterklaas has evolved into a purely superficial, commercial holiday where the usually pragmatic and thrifty Dutch parents shower their young with gifts. It is the only time outside of their birthdays that Dutch children receive gifts.

 

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Sinterklaas rocks because he doesn’t need magical elves and flying reindeers to distribute the presents. He has a white horse named Amerigo where he rides onto roofs to deliver presents down the chimney with the help of some good jolly friends.

Though obviously a matter of taste and personal preferences, Sinterklaas is way cooler with a white horse and genuine friends.

 

On that note, Sinterklaas rocks because he is the inspiration for the American Santa Claus.

Sinterklaas is the original. Santa Claus is the American imitation with a makeover. Sinterklaas gives joy and a feeling of nostalgia in a world that longs for authenticity, romanticizes tradition and celebrates the innocence and wonder of childhood.

 

Sinterklaas rocks because for a few weeks, starting from mid-November up until December 5th, he is real.  

Sinterklaas is not a figment of young children’s imagination in the Netherlands. Rather, he is a product of a concerted effort on behalf of Dutch parents, adults and older children. Even the local Dutch councils, Dutch government, and businesses are invested in making the Sinterklaas tradition as real as possible. Sinterklaas and company will be seen visiting main street, department stores, offices, schools, town centers, train stations and even some homes (for an extra fee) for the next two weeks. He will even invade social media and have an entire news show called the Sinterklaasjournaal dedicated to him. Ruining the magic of Sinterklaas for Dutch children below the age of six would be considered morally wrong, sacrilegious and an affront to Dutch heritage and identity.

 

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Sinterklaas rocks because he is quintessentially Dutch. The tradition of Sinterklaas represents a folklore deeply embedded within the Dutch national consciousness and identity.

Sinterklaas is the most important Dutch holiday tradition. This is a fact. To understand Dutch culture and gain valuable insight into Dutch mentality, one has to experience Sinterklaas in the Netherlands. It also serves as a litmus test to how integrated you are into Dutch culture. Keep in mind, however, that culture is not stagnant. It evolves and adapts according to the wishes and values of the current generations.

 

Sinterklaas rocks because he visits the Netherlands from mid-November till December 5th on a steam boat. 

This guy lives in a luxurious villa in nice warm Mediterranean Spain and decides to come to cold, dreary Holland. And even though he is really old, he has lots of patience and takes a steam boat. Now that’s dedication and a love for tradition. I’m pretty confident that a sleigh ride in the cold December air is a lot more comfortable with the modern comforts of time efficiency and faster than light speed.

 

Wishing everyone a wonderful weekend of Sinterklaas celebrations as we all welcome his arrival!

 

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Disclaimer: This article is not intended as a contribution to the ongoing discourse occurring in the Netherlands regarding the feast of Saint Nicholas.

p.s. Like what you read? Come join me on my Facebook page as I navigate parenting my son in the Netherlands or take a peek of snapshots of my daily life on Instagram.

4 Reasons to Love Sint Maarten | Saint Martin

10 November 2014

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As an American mom living in the Netherlands, I’m trying to figure which traditions and holidays to continue celebrating and which ones to skip. One of the holidays I’m still on the fence about is Halloween. Ironically, despite its roots in Scotland and Ireland (Samhain), Halloween is a distinctly American tradition. The celebration of Halloween is a special day for lighthearted, community-sanctioned mischief, totally devoid of meaning and the best example of runaway consumerism. I personally love it.

 

While Halloween has taken over England, it still hasn’t reached the Netherlands. Outside the American expat santuaries of Amsterdam, Den Haag, and Utrecht, Halloween is simply another day. This year we decided not to bother with Halloween and rather celebrate the Dutch tradition of Saint Martin (Sint Maarten of Tours) instead. Being the only Americans in the village, it wasn’t a challenging decision to make. Plus, the two celebrations are actually quite similar under the premise that it’s a children’s holiday involving going door-to-door and recieving special treats or sweets.

 

In the spirit of spreading some Dutch cultural pride (my son is half-Dutch after all), here are four reasons to love the Dutch tradition of Sint Maarten (Saint Martin) in the Netherlands:

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1. Saint Martin’s Day is celebrated every November 11 in honor of Martin of Tours. 

Martin was a Roman soldier remembered for having a kind heart, being wise and readily helpful. Tradition and folklore has it that one day when he was approaching the gates of the city of Amiens (modern-day France), he met a scantily clad begger who was asking for alms. Martin impulsively cut his military cloak in half to share with the man. Later that night, he dreamed that it was actually Jesus with whom he shared his cloak with. Soon after, Martin left the army and was baptised.

Saint Martin is regarded as a friend of the children and patron of the poor in the Catholic tradition. November 11 is the day that Saint Martin passed away. Saint Martin’s day is traditionally an old harvest festival that is celebrated in many European countries and precedes the fasting period of Advent, which begins on November 12. Though the modern day celebration of Saint Martin in the Netherlands is now non-secretarian, I love how I can still share the story of a random act of kindness.

 

2.  Part of the celebration involves an informal parade of hand-crafted, or store bought lanterns made out of paper as children go around the neighborhood, door to door.

Traditionally, children’s lanterns were made out of hollowed out sugar beets or turnips hanging on a string tied to a wooden stick. Now children often decorate their own paper lanterns at school, or purchase it at the local grocery store. As soon as the sun sets, which often feels like around 4:30 p.m., small groups of Dutch children make processions around their neighborhoods with their latterns.

There’s something romantic and nostalgic about seeing little children with little paper latterns going door-to-door and lighting up the dark, cold “winter” night. The “11th day of the 11th month” after all, is traditionally considered to be the first day of “winter” according to the agricultural calendar.

 

3. “Earning” their treats by making them sing for it.

Rather than saying “Trick-or-Treat”, Dutch children are expected to sing songs.

The most popular song is:

Sint Maarten, Sint Maarten (Saint Martin, Saint Martin)
De Koeien hebben staarten  (The cows have tails)
De Meisjes hebben rokjes aan (The girls are wearing skirts)
Daar komt Sinte Maarten aan (There comes Saint Martin)

My favorite is the one that goes:

11 november is de dag, 
dat mijn lichtje, dat mijn lichtje,
11 november is de dag,
dat mijn lichtje schijnen mag.

12 november is de dag,
dat de tandarts, dat de tandarts,
12 november is de dag,
dat de tandarts boren mag.
There’s something more honest, wholesome and innoncent about singing a “song” in exchange for some sweets rather than a mischivious “threat”.

 

4. Absolutely no costumes, no fuss, no organized fun. Money saved.

For parents who don’t like fuss, wasteful preparations, and spending money they may not have, Sint Maarten seems like a dream. Since children often make these paper latterns at school, it’s also much less of a time commitment and a hassel.

Okay, let’s stop beating around the bush here. Saint Martin is a great way for us (American expat parents) to get a bit of “Halloween” without having to spend money on costumes.

sintmaartin-1

 

Extra Random Trivia for Utrecht Lovers:

Have you ever taken the time to look at the coat of arms and the city flag of Utrecht? Did you know that it was made in honor of Saint Martin, the patron saint of Utrecht?  As my “historian” Dutch husband loves to point out, the red part is the Roman coat and the white part is the undergarment of Saint Martin.

 

As much as I love Halloween, I am relieved that it doesn’t exist in the Netherlands. In fact, neither is Sint Maarten. Sint Maarten is practiced only a handful of pockets in the Low Countries – traditionally in Utrecht, Limburg, Noord-Holland, Groningen, Friesland, Drenthe and Noord Brabant. Perhaps it’s about time that the Dutch embrace this beautiful tradition as an entire country?

 

 

(Photos from last year’s Sint Maarten celebration)

 

From the Cutting Room Floor: A Letter to My Two Year Old Son

5 November 2014

hello-november

Dear Bram Jr.,

 

When I was pregnant with you, I had lofty aspirations and unrealistic expectations. I actually believed that If I allocated eight months (my entire pregnancy) of doing absolutely nothing but researching and reading all the highest rated parenting books according to Amazon and the New York Times, then everything would play out according to my plans. I was the perfect parent before I had you.

 

Part of the plan was to be writing monthly letters to you inspired by one of my favorite blogs – Nurshable. The premise would be to highlight your different quirks, personalities and milestones month by month. Helicopter-attachment-parenting at it’s absolute best, or worst, depending on whose opinion you’re soliciting. Obviously that didn’t happen because this is my first letter to you more than two and a half years after you were born. As a firm believer in self-improvement (I’m American after all), it’s never too late to start now.

 

So let’s get to the heart of our story shall we?

 

At two years and seven months, you make being a mom an absolutely wonderful experience. I’m starting to distrust the common myth of the terrible twos. Rather, I would like to re-name this wonderful age as the “terribly, terrific twos”.

 

You are so affectionate. You love random cuddles throughout the day and insist on falling asleep in my arms.

You’re very clear of what you do and do not want. And while you also have your set of preferences, you’re also open to and curious about discovering the world around you. I pray that you never loose this. Stay true to yourself.

 

You love to sing and dance. I’m not sure where you got that from because your dad and I are tone deaf and each have two left feet.

 

The infamous toddler tantrums are far and few inbetween simply because we finally learned your language, rythm and schedule. You sometimes get upset and tears are shed to release your frustration. It doesn’t last long. There isn’t a simple explanation, perhaps an apology in order and a cuddle that would make everything better.

 

You are absolutely crazy about everything and anything related to transportation vehicles – construction trucks, cranes, trains, motorcycles, boats, and cars.

 

You love books and reading, whether it’s imaginary play reading, or one of us reading out loud.

You’re proactive about being helpful with household chores. Though it does take longer, a lot of patience and holding back my tongue, I’m absolutely delighted when you “help” set the table, vacuum, and load/unload the laundry. I’m afraid that the concept of folding clothes hasn’t

 

You’ve discovered the joy of stickers, coloring and arts and crafts. Thank God for your preschool to organize those things for you.

 

You’re finally sleeping in till at least 8:30 a.m. In my mind, that’s an absolute miracle.

 

You love being outside, whether to play in the sandbox, jump on the trampoline, lie on the grass (or trampoline) and stare at the clouds above, run around in the garden, “bike” to your heart’s content, and take walks in the forest right outside our front door.

 

You’re a foodie! Although you won’t eat everything, you’re always willing to try something new and decide for yourself whether or not your like it. You absolutely love Filipino stews like Chicken Tinola (Chicken clear broth stew with lemon grass), Bulalo (beef marrow stew) and Sinigang (Tamarind soup) and Pinakbet (Filipino vegetable medley stew) with a generous helping of rice. When you’re hungry, you would simply say “Soup rice”, climb up your chair and sit expectantly at the dining table.

 

And of course, you are absolutely crazy over herring with onions, smeer kaas (spreadable cheese), hagelslag (chocolate sprinkles) with white bread and butter, and french fries. To get to your heart, a warm cup of chocolate milk always does the trick.

 

I was actually caught off-guard with how enjoyable parenting a toddler can be. Perhaps I read too much of Scary Mommy and The Huffington Post. Rather seeing the humor of all the wonderfully witty stories, I became anxious about this stage and dreaded it. Sarcasm sometimes gets lost in translation. Forgive me for being wrong.

Being a mommy blogger, I’m also careful to protect your privacy. There are the things unwritten and unsaid that will remain just between us. Though part of blogging is connecting to the bigger and larger world, to commiserate and share our experiences, I’m also coignizant that some things shouldn’t be shared unless with your permission. And right now, at two years and seven months, I have the foresight to gage that it’s a little too young and presumptious of me to ask it of you. But what I can share with conviction, is that overall, our life right now when you’re two years old is perfectly imperfect.

 

I don’t know how long this stage is going to last. The superstitious voice in my head (a byproduct of having Filipino parents) warns me that providing an honest snapshot of my personal life would mean sabotage. But the reality is, and it took me becoming a mother to internalize this fact, is that nothing in life is permanent. Not if, but when. The only things we have my dear son is now, our hopes, our dreams and each other.

 

These must be the precious handful of little children years that empty-nesters long for the most. When a young family’s life can be chaotic and exhausting, but delightfully simple and refreshingly ordinary. For now, there’s no worries about school bullies, fitting in, grades, standardized testing (CITO and Common Core come to my mind), schedules governed by soccer practices and music lessons. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there (which isn’t too long from now I’m afraid). There’s also no dealing with teenage hormones, resentment issues, drama and a whole boatload of other emotional landmines that adolescence may bring.

 

So for now, waking up from the fog of severe sleep deprivation and exhaustion the first year and a half brought (and occassionally still does), I’m reveling in the moment of the terribly, terrific twos.  Thank-you.

 

Love,

Your Mom

 

(Photo taken of my son at the Kröller-Müller Musem)

Social Media and My Multiple Personalities

23 October 2014

social-media-split-personality

 

“I think I have multiple personalities.” I confess to my friend Aya.

 

“What do you mean?” as she sips her cold latté because I had forgotten to give earlier amidst the demands of my precocious toddler.

 

“I’m on all these different social media platforms – Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter. On each one, I’m a different person. Pinterest is actually the one I’m most insecure about. It challenges my genuine attempts of just being me, because almost everything I pin is what I aspire for, not what I actually have, or even find the time to make, less alone succeed in making it resemble what ever was pinned. “I nervously spew out.

 

“Is there actually something wrong with that?” she asks. “We all are multifaceted people anyway. Why just limit yourself, put yourself in a box? Have fun with it girl. Isn’t the idea of Pinterest a world of make-believe any way? I should actually get on it for some design inspiration for my new apartment.”

 

I nod and smile in agreement.  Aya is gorgeous, smart, witty, down-to-earth, generous and kind. Men (and women) melt at her feet.  She knows it and we love her even more because of it. We don’t see each other much but she’s a kindred spirit. I love hearing about her glamorous life, her latest travel adventures and plans and how she’s settling in her new temporary home in Luxembourg.

 

A quick google search “social media and multiple personalities” confirms my suspicions that I’m not alone in feeling this way. It also intuitively makes sense. All of these social media platforms have different focuses and target groups, facilitating different types of interactions and promoting certain behaviors.

 

Being on various social media outlets is simply the industry standard for bloggers. It’s something that I just need to be a part of in order to reach my audience. Balancing it all – being present in the virtual world as well as the real-flesh-in-blood kind or world- is an entirely different discussion (blog post).

 

What I do know is that a healthy dose of all these social media platforms has made my life as the only American stay-at-home in my Dutch village a whole lot less lonely. And because of it, I get to explore different aspects of myself and “meet” people around the world who I may never have met before. And I couldn’t resist sharing with you guys an overview of my different personas.

 

This is where you can find Finding Dutchland (me) and what kind of personality you can expect:

 

Facebook
Aside from the blog, my Facebook page is my other “homebase”.  Here I’m a storyteller. It’s where I love sharing random tidbits of my life, what interests me and my latest blog posts. In fact, I actually update it more regularly than my own private Facebook account and blog. It’s where my biggest supporters are, my people. I love how it’s evolving into a community where there’s actual discussions and commentary.

 

Instagram
This is my second favorite social media network. On Instagram, I get to play the role of a photojournalist. It’s a place where I get to capture moments of my everyday family life, snapshots of where I’m writing, and glimpses of our family’s travels. Though I miss the feel of my DSLR in my hands, practicing iPhoneography on a daily basis with my vintage IPhone 5s is fun and convenient. It’s basically a modern day baby book and journal.

 

Pinterest
Perhaps the best description of Pinterest that I ever come across is that it brings out the “aspirational housewife in all of us“.  It’s essentially a grown-up version of make-believe, a fantasy world where we can all exchange ideas and momentarily get away from reality. As someone who is not a crafty DIY person, it was kind of intimidating. When I discovered that 80% of pins on Pinterest were re-pins, it confirmed my suspicions that I was like almost everyone else – just following along to the brilliant and drool worthy ideas of a very select group of content creators. But I’m having lots of fun anyways collecting ideas of what I want, aspire to have and dream to experience. And hopefully since I have my heart on blogging more lifestyle-themed posts, I could also contribute and curate my own content to share.

 

Twitter
After all this time, I’m still getting the hang of Twitter. Sometimes I still get the feeling like I’m on the floor of the New York stock exchange, you know the kind that you see in the morning news with stock-traders yelling, holding wads of paper and pacing back-and-forth. Initially, everyone seems to be screaming something, all shouting at each other and not really doing much listening. I do appreciate, however, how it’s allowed me to connect with my favorite writers/bloggers and to have them follow me back makes me feel special. Whether or not they may actually know that I’m also an aspiring writer, or simply following me back for courtesy sake, I love being able to just tweet directly at them and perhaps even have a conversation. For the most part though, it’s primarily where I love to share articles that come up on my Feedly right before I head to bed. With a limitation of only 140 characters, it’s also the fastest way to get my attention.

Behind the Scenes at Finding Dutchland

17 October 2014

“Love.” my Dutch husband calls out to me from down the hall. “We need to talk.”

 

His voice betrays a hint of mischief and urgency. I think to myself, “Why can’t he leave me alone. I need to finish writing this blog post. Maybe if I don’t answer him he’ll conveniently be distracted by our son.”

 

“Do you know what you’ve just done?” his head pops into my office door seconds later.

 

He struts over to my laptop and opens up Google analytics.

 

1,117,289 page views. 863,662 unique visitors. From the 1 October to 17 October 2014.

 

My eyes stare back blankly at the screen, heart palpitating a million beats per second while trying to comprehend the numbers in front of me.

 

Oops, I did it again.

 

Or more accurately, my lovely loyal readers helped spread my words across the globe about Dutch children being the happiest kids in the world and everything else related to my Dutched reality. My husband kisses me on my cheek, shakes his head in amusement and heads off to play with our son.

 

I then put my head on my desk, overwhelmed by a flood of emotions.

 

Blogging has enabled me to combine my two passions, writing and photography, while also being a stay-at-home mom. I love the process that writing entails, to see my thoughts, ideas and emotions come to life as the words from my fingertips are strung together on the keyboard and onto the screen. Words can break down walls, forge friendships, illicit emotions, and … heal. Taking pictures for me is cathartic and forces me to slow down, capture moments and give gratitude to all the beauty and wonder that this crazy experience called life throws at my feet.

 

And I have so much more I want to share – about my own story, about parenting in the Netherlands, the universal experience of motherhood – because if you could read my mind love, what a tale my thoughts would tell. We’ve only just begun.

 

(Apologies for all old school music references. Music helps me deal with stress and random songs from my childhood come up in my head.)

 

My site statistics tell me that I’ve finally “made it” as a blogger. That people graciously find the time to sit down and read what I have to write and share. Thank-you.

 

However (and this is the part where my heart breaks), to accommodate this amount of traffic demands a hefty price tag in the form of server fees. No hobby should be a financial burden to a young family establishing roots. Not when we’re a single-income household with no trust-fund, or any other extra means of financial support to lean on.

 

I had to ask myself, “Do I stop writing, or shall I continue with this endeavor? Do I let you guys know what’s going on, or do I simply keep going and posting while behind-the-scenes I’m feeling paralyzed, uncertain about how to proceed and on the brink of quitting. My supportive husband sweetly warns me that if I stop now, I’m going to be disappointing a lot of people. He’s wonderful like that isn’t he?

 

Let’s also not forget how emotional I’ve been through all of this. I finally found my voice, my passion. It took me eight long, hard-earned expat years to discover just how wonderful life and raising children in the Netherlands can be. All the countless thousands of hours I spent researching, writing, and revising blog posts in hopes of building something I can be proud of.

 

For the sake of transparency and practicing the art of vulnerability, in other words, keeping it real, I’ve decided to share what’s been weighing heavily on me all week.  I’m officially making a concerted effort to pursue sponsorship opportunities to help me with my server fees and allow me the peace of mind and valuable time to continue writing. I promise not to make my blog an on-going infomercial (which is why I resisted accepting various offers for so long) and will only accept offers that I feel contribute to the spirit of my blog and are of relevant interest to my readership. Thanks for letting me share what’s really going on in the Finding Dutchland household.

 

Wishing everyone a wonderful and blessed weekend. For those who live in the Netherlands, weather forecasters are promising us a magical, record breaking “hot weekend”. Make it a good one.

 

 

p.s.  If you think your shop, business or blog would be a good fit as a sponsor, contact me.

p.p.s. If you haven’t joined already, there’s an awesome party happening on my Facebook page. Come join in the fun.