The Life-Changing Magic of King’s Day

28 April 2016

by Michele Hutchison

The Life Changing Magic of King's Day ©Michele Hutchison


Each year my kids get to have their own Marie Kondo moment. As Koningsdag – King’s Day – approaches the time comes  to sort through all their old toys and decide what to sell. Do you still play with it? No. Have you grown out of it? Yes. Onto the pile. Many of these toys were accumulated at previous King’s Day markets for a couple of euros at the most. My husband and I are sometimes glad to see the back of them – particularly those of the cheap plastic, noisy variety.  I admit it, joy is sparked in my mind when I see those go on the pile. Less joyous is the way some of the toys selected for sale mark the end of an era. A Miffy hand puppet, dolls, a beloved train set or a set of Early Reader books. But there is no room for sentimentality – the more the children sell, the more cash they  make to buy new toys.

There is a long tradition of buying and selling your old toys in the Netherlands. Two areas in Amsterdam are set aside for children’s free markets: the Vondelpark and the NDSM wharf on the north bank of the river IJ. Grown-up Dutchies turn the rest of the city into an orange-festooned party zone and random junk market. There’s a lot of loud music and beer and drunken revelry so it’s better for the kids to have their own venues where there is relative peace and quiet.

The Life Changing Magic of King's Day

©Michele Hutchison

 

If you opt for the Vondelpark you can take a blanket to spread out on the grass for the kids to display their wares on. Enterprising children can also earn money by singing, dancing or playing a musical instrument, sometimes blowing their very first notes by the sound of it. Or they paint the faces or fingernails of passers-by a clumsy orange. I tend to make a run for it when I see them to be honest.

The NSDM wharf is home to the monthly flea market so you can hire a proper market stall for the princely sum of €7. Or you can simply put down a blanket on the tarmac which we did last year. It was rather uncomfortable, even after the children had managed to acquire an inflatable cushion and a prayer stool to sit on. This year we hired a stall and as the date neared, we began to worry about the weather forecast. Hailstorms and strong winds threatened to put a dampener on the celebrations. We decided to simply brave it, like proper Dutch people. It would instil some extra grit in the kids. Martijn bought a canvas sheet and I transferred all the toys to plastic crates with lids. When we arrived, my hobby sailor husband quickly strung up the canvas, employing his canny way with knots. All Dutch men know how to raise a sail and tie a seaman’s knot, perhaps they are born with the skill.   

The canvas kept us out of the wind, more or less, and protected the stall from the intermittent showers. Between them, Ben and Ina earned €34 which is not too bad, but not a great hourly rate for freezing your ass off in the cold. We got rid of just over half the junk. But no worries. Everything left over simply gets stored until next year’s market.

King’s Day 2016 marked the end of another era. Ben didn’t find anything to buy this year. He’d grown out of most of what was on offer. Ina, however, found herself some off-white cuddly toys, a Sudoku board game and this fantastic bargain. I wonder whether it will still spark joy in her mind next year. Somehow I fear it will.

 

The Life Changing Magic of King's Day
©Michele Hutchison

How I Ended Up in Dutchland and Why I Decided to Stay

26 April 2016

By Michele Hutchison

 

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photo copyright © Gelya Bogatishcheva

 

Next month I’ll have been living in Amsterdam for twelve years. It’s the longest I’ve lived anywhere. Until then my life seemed to have followed a rhythm in sixes, from birth to six years, from six to twelve, twelve to eighteen, then the six university years of moving every six months, and then six years in London. I didn’t come here for love, though I did marry a Dutchman. Actually, I was married to a Dutchman before I lived in Holland. We had a long-distance commuter marriage and that suited me just fine. (One of my exes once called me commitment-phobic, but we won’t go into that.) In any case, Amsterdam/London on alternate weekends went smoothly, until I got pregnant. And the pregnancy worked just fine, mainly on my own, until it was time to almost give birth. It was only logical for me to take my six-months paid maternity leave in Amsterdam, so off I went, 37 weeks pregnant and about to pop.

 

The Dutchman (he’s called Martijn* but only proper Dutch people can pronounce that, my mum spent years calling him Mar-tidge-en) picked me up in a van and drove me and my boxes and boxes of books from my publishing job back over the channel to his home city. I didn’t pop. It was six weeks before the baby deigned to make an appearance (another six). But by the time I’d crawled through the lonely isolation of a maternity leave in a foreign country, I realised I was going to have to change my plans.

 

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photo copyright © Gelya Bogatishcheva

 

What kind of a fruitloop would try to bring up a child in London when all the advantages of a happy, relaxed Dutch childhood were staring me in the face? Friends back home who had become mothers were killing themselves trying to get from the crèche to the office on time and back again in the rush hour. There was no let- up of work pressure, and on top of that there was pressure to be the perfect mum. Perfect mums did things like teaching their kids to read and write before they even went to school, when would I have time for that? When I took a look around me I saw that the Dutch have:

  • a fantastic, non-fee paying school system
  • relaxed parenting styles
  • kids playing freely outdoors
  • a better work/life balance for parents
  • no horrendous public transport issues – you could simply bike everywhere

It was a total no-brainer. And here I am almost twelve years later. I’ve got two children, a son Benjamin and a daughter, Ina, who is two and a half years younger. And my life has stopped moving in sixes. Although in six years’ time, I may be tempted to move again.

 

*Martijn is pronounced something like Moarr-tey-n. Only the Moarr bit has to be nice and short, not elongated.

I Am Back with Exciting News!

25 April 2016

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I’m back!  It’s been a while. I’ve missed you and blogging about my life in the Netherlands.

 

Behind the scenes of Finding Dutchland, I’ve become a mom of two. I underestimated just how my life would change. Raising a toddler and a baby required me to take a step back from everything else. But never once did I forget about my blog.

I initially started blogging because I wanted to connect and share the crazy, wonderful parenting reality happening in the Netherlands. Perhaps I can make a friend, or two. It has become so much more over the years, especially the gezellig Facebook community. I even managed to convince my husband to work on the re-design of my blog while I was in hospital waiting for my second baby to be born.

 

By chance, I became BFFs with another expat mom Michele. She’s a British mom of two kids also married to a Dutch guy, and living in Amsterdam. It’s a love at-first-sight mommy romance complete with a shared passion for writing and living a life well-lived, influenced by our Dutched reality.

 

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And Michele has graciously agreed to become my partner-in-crime, co-blogger of Finding Dutchland. It will give me just a bit more space in my life to dedicate to my kids, while carrying on blogging.

 

We’re looking forward to sharing our cultural musings about the Netherlands, everything related to parenthood and anything that catches our attention and our heart’s fancy. We aspire to create a space where you can be inspired and perhaps have a laugh or two.

 

Here’s to Finding Dutchland, wherever you may be.

 

-xo, Rina


P.s. Feel free to join our mailing list.

P.p.s. Feel like procrastinating some more? Take a look at our lives on our Instagram account.

Glamping at De Groene Hoeve (Feather Down Farm Holidays)

6 July 2015

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When BoerenBed (Feather Down Farm Stays) invited us to a “glamping” trip at the De Groene Hoeve in exchange for a review, we couldn’t resist. The premise was that we would be given a gentle introduction to the world of camping while getting a glimpse of authentic farm life.

My three year old was ecstatic, repeatedly exclaiming weeks ahead to anyone who would listen – “Kamperen op de boerderij” (Camping on the farm). His enthusiasm was reassuring. My Dutch husband, who has years of camping experience from his youth, was amused. As someone who grew up in the (sub)urban jungles of San Francisco, I was intrigued and a bit apprehensive. Not one to turn down an adventure, I went with an open-mind.

De Groene Hoeve is run by husband and wife Cees and Niki Groenendijk. They operate an organic goat farm comprised of eighty-six milking goats. Like any proper farm, there’s also plenty of other animals to keep the goats company – two dogs, a cat, a horse, a pony, two piglets, bunnies, chickens and the occasional shy fox. There are also friendly neighborly cows in the distance. By the looks of it, these goats and other animals were quite happy.

As soon as we arrived at the farm in the early evening, Niki seemed to magically appear to greet us. She speaks impeccable English with a charming British accent. We appreciate her hands-on, personal approach to giving us (and all the other guests) a crash course in the ins-and-outs of the camping grounds and the farm.

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Betere Boeren Bed Tent (Feather Down Farm Tent)

Each Betere Boeren Bed Tent offers all the benefits of camping – nostalgia for a simpler, imagined past and communing with nature – with several modern conveniences. Each large canvas tent is fully equipped like a miniature two-bedroom apartment (one with bunk beds and the other with a queen size bed), a fully equipped kitchen with cold running water, a living room with a dining area and sofa, and private bathroom facilities. And of course, decorative pieces scattered here and there, real hardwood floors and windows you can open and close that all add to the feeling of gezelligheid, a Dutch word that embodies coziness, warmth and love. And the highlight for many kids (and even adults) is cupboard type bed that can easily be shared by two children, or serve as a great reading nook.

The rest – such as building your own fire, living without electricity and being off the grid (no internet connection) – is part of the charm. It’s when the real camping begins.

For gourmands and camping enthusiasts, there’s a wood-oven stove right in the center of each tent (the beating heart) and an outdoor wood cooker. And never fear – there’s freshly chopped wood and a fire building starter kit right at your fingertips. There’s the option to dine indoors, or outside depending on your mood and the weather.

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Part of the highlight of the trip was on Saturday evening when Niki and Cees hosted a homemade pizza party for all the campers. It’s easy to fall in love with their rustic outdoor eating area with a large king size table and their wood-fired brick oven. The pizza was delicious and the homemade strawberry goat ice-cream was divine. It was also a great way to meet other families.

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It’s all about living to the rhythm of the land.” shares Niki.

I couldn’t help but reciprocate with an understanding smile. For starters, living off the grid (no internet connection and spotty cell phone reception) can do wonders for the soul. It guarantees families the time and space to do a lot of bonding with each other, free from the distractions of everyday modern life. Its quaintness and peacefulness lends to the atmosphere of slow living. The cozy campground, limited to only five tents and far away from the nearest road, is structured in a way to allow toddlers and young children to roam safely.

And no need to worry about planning activities – just starting the fires and keeping them going is an exercise in communication, patience and resourcefulness. Though it took us about two hours on our first try, we appreciated the sense of accomplishment of finally having a hot fire to cook food. There’s something quite refreshing and honest about making meals the old-school way.

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As assured by Niki before our arrival,  De Groene Hoeve really has everything that a family needs for a comfortable stay. All we needed was to bring ourselves and practical clothing for camping. There is a fully equipped store offering organic and locally grown products from other Dutch farmers, as well as basic necessities such as olive oils, soaps, etc.

As we were leaving, Niki offered our son a vintage toy truck. We accepted on the premise that it was merely a loan and that we would hopefully return it next year. De Groene Hoeve has definitely gotten this American-Dutch family hooked on glamping.

 

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Location

What’s also surreal is that the location of De Groene Hoeve. It’s conveniently located in the Northwestern part of the Netherlands between two historic Dutch fishing villages – Hoorn (8km) and Enkhuizen (13 km). Although it’s only a mere forty-five minutes away from Amsterdam, the bucolic surroundings transports you to another time.

Bonus Tips

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Take a cruise alongside the beautiful, historic city of Hoorn with Watertaxi Hoorn (ask for schipper Koen). Hoorn is definitely a hidden treasure off-the-beaten path.

Just a 15 minute drive away is Sprookjeswonderland (Fairytale Wonder Land) in Enkhuizen. It’s actually a wonderful getaway for families with children under the age of five.

How To Succeed In Your 30s

18 June 2015

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I’m now well into my thirties where motherhood and finding my calling take center stage. Being 31 weeks pregnant with baby number two and having a career opportunity help solidify those feelings. Since I’m riding high on pregnancy hormones, it’s the perfect opportunity to wax poetic about how to succeed in life in your 30s. And when I mean “succeed”, what I am actually referring to is how to acquire the overachiever’s ultimate, ever-so-elusive trophy – genuine happiness.

 

What do I know about happiness? The self-deprecating, overly apologetic and polite Asian-American in me is tempted  to write :  not a lot really. Yet if I am truly honest with myself and my readers, I have to admit that overall, my life is pretty wonderful mainly because I’ve decided to go Dutch. (Though please don’t confuse my behind-the-scenes life as equating to perfect because I too have a whole laundry list of first world problems.)

 

Spending my 30s in the Netherlands -the world’s epicenter for happy babies, kids, and adults – is quite helpful and even inspiring. Living in close proximity to Utrecht, one of the happiest places in the world, reinforces the overall message of happiness. It seems that simply being Dutch is an almost universal guarantee for being happy. With their trademark blend of refreshing directness, liberal attitudes and keen sense of fairness, the Dutch seem to know a lot about living a life well-lived.

 

I still have a lot to learn from these beautiful (and sometimes intimidating) giants that tower over me. I am also convinced that it’s when you’ve outgrown the narcissistic 20s and you find yourself on the landing on the stairs, that you are more open to this alternative lifestyle free from the status quo. So for now, here are some things from Dutch culture that get to the very heart of accomplishing happiness in your 30s (and for the rest of your life):

 

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Live within your means.

It’s actually quite refreshing to live in a culture where being thrifty is admired and encouraged. Life in the Netherlands, like the United States, can actually be prohibitively expensive. The struggle is real folks. Thankfully, keeping up with the Joneses mentality doesn’t exist here and is frowned upon. People in the Netherlands work to live, not live to work, mastering the fine art of life and work balance.

 

Don’t ever apologize for who you are.

Be honest with who you are and trust your intuition. Accept the reality that not everyone will like you when you follow your heart and your guts. Life isn’t about winning a popularity contest. Just dust the dirt of your shoulders when it comes to trolls and mean girls.

 

Say what you mean and mean what you say.

Though it definitely takes some time getting used to, Dutch directness can do wonders for your mental health. The Dutch have no qualms saying what is on their minds and letting you know about it. There’s no second guessing, no trying to figure out nuances, no anxiety. It’s clear from the start. And you’re equally expected to speak your mind. Be brave and let the words come out.

 

Always err on the side of kindness.

Despite the notorious reputation of the Dutch being cheapskates, they’re actually among the most generous when it comes to giving aid according to the World Giving Index. They may not have much but they are more than willing to share what they do have, whether it’s time, money or expertise. This generosity is reflected in everyday life. There’s a sense of social responsibility in Dutch neighborhoods to keep an eye out for each other. Don’t be fooled by their initial distant demeanor  – underneath their stoic personas lies a kind person more than happy to help and give without hesitation.

 

Friends and family are everything.

Contrary to the infamous reputation of Amsterdam’s liberal policies for sex, drugs and alcohol, friends and family are everything to the Dutch. Daily family meals and regular get-togethers with their nearest and dearest are a must. By nurturing the ties that bind, one fosters their sense of belonging.

 

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Enjoy the company that you keep when no one is around.

Master the art of “dating” yourself by investing time (and money) in your own interests and passions. While family and friends are of utmost importance to the Dutch, they are also fiercely independent and embrace personal-development. They even have a special calendar to ensure that they pencil in “me time”. This is especially important for moms in the thick of parenting in the early years to remember.

 

Celebrate every single birthday.

Since we never know when the proverbial shoe will drop, celebrating every single birthday with our nearest and dearest is an absolute must. A simple cake with candles and refreshments surrounded by lots of love, laughter and gezelligheid will suffice. For the Dutch, each birthday is an important accomplishment accompanied by greeting the birthday celebrant with “Gefeliciteerd” (literally translated as “Congratulations”). I always like to add in, “for living another year.” Everything else – fancy dinners, extravagant gifts, and decorations – is superfluous.

 

Eat less, exercise more.

The simple mantra “eat less, exercise more” as part of your daily reality can help you live a long and healthy life. The Dutch incorporate regular exercise, usually in the form of biking, as simply being part of what they do nearly every day. And of course, given their pragmatic and traditional view on food, they always eat meals in moderation.

 

Travel.

Where ever you are in the world, chances are you are going to run into a Dutch person. The Dutch love to challenge themselves in learning about new cultures and how other people live. Consider visiting one new place each year. Not only will time away do wonders for your psyche, but will give you a new perspective on what it means to really live and some time to reflect on whether or not you’re living the life you want.

 

And don’t forget to turn your face towards the sun.

The perpetual grey skies in the Netherlands make every day that the sun shines a remarkable, special day. It really is about celebrating and finding joy in the everyday moments of life, the quiet moments of getting up and being grateful that you have another day to live. Just remember not to forget the sunscreen.

 

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(First photo courtesy of Peter Eijking. Visit his website for more inspirational images and videos of the Netherlands).

 

Postpartum Care and What We Can Learn From the Dutch

30 March 2015

Postpartum Care and What We Can Learn From the Dutch

 

As an American mom expecting her second child and living in the Netherlands, I can’t help but think about postpartum care between the two countries. It’s hard not to notice the difference – there is none in the United States.

 

In Holland, mothers getting back on their feet after delivery is a matter of national interest. All mothers are entitled to a kraamverzorger (a professional maternity nurse) for the first eight to ten days after giving birth. According to the pragmatic Dutch, a mother’s body has a lot of healing to do postpartum while also meeting the near physically exhausting, twenty-four hour demands of a newborn.

 

That’s where a kraamverzorger comes in – to help the mother rest, regain her strength, and bond with her baby in the comfort of her own home. A kraamverzorger is not only responsible for the well-being of the newborn, but also for closely monitoring a mother’s recovery’s process. It’s a gentle crash course in motherhood where a kraamverzorger serves as an invaluable resource for breastfeeding tips, bathing, changing diapers, dressing, feeding, and schedules.

 

She works closely with a midwife, or an obstetrician if any potential problems arises. An added bonus is that a kraamverzorger can take over household chores – cooking, laundry (washing, drying folding and ironing), tidying up, vacuuming, general household cleaning, and watching over older children.

 

Kraamverzorgers are a solidly Dutch middleclass experience. It’s not just for the fancy. I would know. We’re a single-income household. Kraamverzorgers are part of the basic universal health insurance and the cost of care is sent directly to the health care provider. There is an additional nominal contribution and depending on a person’s health care package, even this can be partially or completely reimbursed.

 

I initially found the whole Dutch approach foreign, frivolous, and a bit entitled. I was one of those first-time mothers-to-be who was confident that she could handle postpartum recovery all by her lonesome self. I had trusty reliable sources such as “What to Expect When You’re Expecting“(the ultimate pregnancy bible for stereotypical first-time moms), fail proof Google and mommy forums. . If my own mom was expected to hold the down the fort (cooking, cleaning, laundry, a newborn and two older children) a mere days after her second C-section delivery, why couldn’t I ? I was going to be a super-mom: no need for a stranger to come to my house to help me and my newborn. Hear me roar.

 

What I didn’t count on was making God laugh with my well-thought out birth plan of a picture perfect delivery and near instantaneous recovery. My son came exactly one month before his due date and not without a struggle (vacuum-assisted delivery and an episiotomy). While I had meticulously prepared for all the baby essentials and devoured all the pregnancy literature, I didn’t anticipate that I might actually need some personal care. There was also the initial difficulty of feeding a 36 week premature baby and getting the intimate breastfeeding dance started. And the hormones. Oh the lovely hormones.

 

My kraamverzorger, a matronly Dutch Surinamese woman named Rhada, was responsible for my change of heart. She’s like a modern day Mary Poppins but even better – she taught me how to embrace the new me. Not even my own mother could give the kind of care, patience, love, understanding and assurance Rhada gave me.

 

A friend recently shared with me that after her delivery, her Dutch midwife showed her the placenta and pointed out, “That’s the size of the wound left inside of your body.” Puts postpartum recovery in perspective doesn’t it? The midwife’s words speak volumes of the importance of allowing a mother to convalesce after she gives birth.

 

It’s a modern approach that sees the wisdom of taking care of moms so they can have a solid, positive start to the year long recovery process of childbirth. It certainly helps address potential issues such as birth trauma, postpartum depression, struggles with breastfeeding and physical injuries from difficult deliveries.

 

I can’t help but wonder if this kraamverzorger program is part of why Dutch moms raise the happiest kids in the world. Happy moms generally raise happy kids. And for a mom having her own private maternity nurse to help her recover and pamper her in the comfort and coziness of her own home can do wonders for a mom’s overall well-being. Wouldn’t you agree?

 

Now that I am almost half-way through my second pregnancy, I’m looking forward to the glorious first days with my newborn in my arms and my kraamverzorger by my side. I’m convinced that going Dutch postpartum should be the latest parenting trend that American moms would be excited to be part of.

 

 

(photo courtesy of Tanja de Maesschalk taken during my first pregnancy)

A Very Pregnant Announcement

9 March 2015

avergypregnantannouncementDearest friends,

After struggling to keep it a secret for months, I’m excited to announce that Bram and I are expecting a new addition to our family. I am 16 weeks along and due on 21 August 2015. While I fluctuate from being absolutely thrilled and scared of having another baby, I am on cloud nine with thoughts of becoming a mother all over again. My husband is over the moon and my almost three year old son has declared that he too is pregnant.

And as you can probably guess, I can’t wait to share my experience of the joys of motherhood with all those sweet steps along the way: documenting my pregnancy, contacting my maternity nurse, gynecologist vs. midwives, finding out the gender, choosing a name, growing pains (morning sickness, aches, braxton hick contractions), preparing for baby, having the feels, preparing my toddler, creating my tribe….

Hugs & Kisses,
Rina Mae

p.s. And yes, I am officially back in the wonderful world of blogging about my adventures in the Netherlands. Here’s to Finding Dutchland, where ever you may be. 😉

Oud en Nieuw in the Netherlands

31 December 2014

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If you happen to be in the Netherlands on the last day of December, chances are you’ll learn that it is affectionately called Oud en Nieuw (Old and New). Others refer to the 31st of December as Oudejaarsdag (Old Year’s Day). The name of the day speaks volumes of how important it is for the Dutch to reflect on the past year while welcoming the new year.

 

I love that.

 

Oud en Nieuw speaks to my sentimental soul, the writer in me. So in true Dutch and American fashion, I nostalgically reflect on the past year and make my own New Year’s resolution.

 

Despite my neurotic tendencies of waiting for the proverbial shoe to drop, my life this past year has been (overall) incredible. Though my family’s life in the Low Countries is far from perfect, we live a privileged life. We finally found a place in the Netherlands that we would love to call home – Doorn. My son is growing up happy. And a lot of it has to do with living in a country that values social well-being and a keen sense of fairness within a free-market infrastructure.

 

Though there are still times when I stumble, feel horribly out of place and a fresh flood of tears follow, I am the happiest I have ever been as an expat. I can’t help but feel like the luckiest mommy blogger in the Netherlands. The constant support and encouragement via likes, shares, comments and personal messages from my readers fills my heart with gratitude. Thank-you.

 

Perhaps the biggest personal surprise in 2014 was that I started writing for my two year old son. While my blog was initially inspired by loneliness and a desperate need to connect, it has evolved to becoming a legacy for my son. As a child of immigrant parents, I am intimately familiar with cross-cultural conflicts and things simply being lost in translation. This blog is my gift to him – an honest endeavor to understand and learn about his Dutch culture while also teaching him about our Filipino-American roots.

 

The other reason for my happiness as an expat (and as a person) is living a more genuine life that’s authentic to my own personal values. In Marjorie William’s poignant article A Matter of Life and Death, she writes, “For me, time is the only currency that truly counts anymore.” Her words deeply resonate with me. In 2014, I learned to value my time and how I spend it.

 

My New Year’s resolution is simple – to write more. I plan on taking a sabbatical on my blog for the month of January to find the time and space to write. And since all the world’s a stage, the part I am going to play in 2015 is the eccentric writer in the woods.

 

Wishing everyone a fabulous New Year! And of course, don’t forget about the requisite all night partying, anarchy of fireworks, and indulgence of Dutch olliebollen.

 

p.s. If you would still like to connect with me during my January blogging sabbatical, you can get glimpses of my fabulously ordinary “Dutched” life on Facebook and Instagram.

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.