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Holland - Christmas traditions & customs

In the Netherlands St. Nicholas is known as Sinterklaas.
To the Dutch, St. Nicholas' Day is the time of greatest revelry in the Christmas season. St. Nicholas comes on the last Saturday of November by steamer. As he comes into the port of Amsterdam, all business and traffic stops as the people pour out to greet him. He disembarks with his servant Black Peter and riding his white horse. He is dressed in traditional bishop's robes while Black Peter wears Spanish attire. They are greeted by the mayor and lead a great parade through the streets to the royal palace. Here all the royal children are waiting and must give accounts of their behavior over the past year, just as all Dutch children must do. After the princes and princesses have proved their worth, the parade continues to a major hotel, where St. Nicholas will establish his headquarters for the season.

December 5, St. Nicholas' Eve, is when the presents are exchanged. The presents are called "surprises" because they are disguised as much as possible to make the final discovery more delightful. A small gift may be wrapped inside a huge box, or hidden inside a vegetable, or sunk in a pudding. A large gift may lurk in the cellar with clues to its location. All surprises must be accompanied by a bit of verse. On Christmas itself, there are no presents. There are church services both Christmas Eve and morning and a big dinner in the evening.

The Christmas tree is the center of the home celebration, which consists of carols and story-telling in the afternoon. December 26 is also a holiday, called Second Christmas Day, and is a time to relax and probably go out to eat. The people of Twente in east Holland hold a special Advent ceremony in which special horns are blown to chase away evil spirits and to announce the birth of Christ. Horns are homemade out of one-year-old saplings and are three or four feet long. Blown over wells, they sound a deep tone, similar to a foghorn.


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