Christmas in The Netherlands – Part 3: Celebrate Like an Adult

So, you’ve been invited to a grown up party for Sinterklaas. What now?

Every culture has it’s own way of celebrating Christmas. But this isn’t really Christmas, is it? I have gotten a bit of grief for calling these posts “Christmas in the Netherlands” but I stand by the title. It’s the Christmas season. I thought about changing it so “Holidays in the Netherlands” but that is far to vague, there are a lot of holidays. So I’ll keep it Christmas for now, but I do want to clarify one thing. It’s the Sinterklaas celebration. If you have read my earlier posts about this time of year you know that the Dutch like to shake things up a bit. Don’t get lulled into a false sense of security because it’s an adult party during the Christmas holidays and you think you know what’s coming. I have made that mistake and there were a lot of very confused Dutch people around me. 

So what are the basics?


I take no credit for this Surprise. Thank you internet.  

Just like the kids do. If you give a gift the wrapping needs to be special and look like something else. Some examples from parties I have been to include: A giant box of packing peanuts with several very small gifts inside. A wrapped box inside a wrapped box inside a wrapped box that contained a present. I went to one of these Sinterklaas celebrations with my knit group and a present given to a woman (who was a rower) it was a hand made paper rowing machine with knit related presents in all the tube bits. It was amazing. But you get the idea.

The Poem:

You read that right. The Poem. You write a poem about the person you are giving a gift to. If you are giving multiple gifts then you better set aside some time because you are going to have to get really creative. Here is the kick, they are a bit mean. It’s like the closer you are to someone the meaner they get. For heavens sake don’t call Karen at the office fat, but it’s perfectly acceptable to make a little rhyme about how your brother didn’t do a very good job staying away from the sweets this year. Maybe it’s the Dutch bluntness coming through. Who knows. But it’s a thing.

The Games

I can’t really give you to many specifics because they are all different. If you are invited to a party and not specifically told that you are bringing a gift for a specific person, there is gonna be a party game. At least you off the hook about the poem and the surpise wrapping at this point, so that’s good. The games can get extraordinarily complicated and will differ from family to family or from group to group but they all amount to the same basic theme. Fighting over the best 3 presents. My family played a version of this on Christmas Eve every year so I’m used to the general concept but the Dutch tend to add in a lot of extra rules. And it will probably be in mostly Dutch so you are a at a disadvantage there as well. The easiest version is: everyone brings a gift. Then they pick a number written on a tiny piece of paper from a box. The person who picked the number 1 opens a present. The person who has picked the number 2 can either open an unwrapped present or take the present that the previous person has opened. If person number 2 takes the present from person number 1 then person number 1 opens a new present. It tends to get a bit dicey when person number 8 takes a present from person number 3, then person number 3 takes a present from person number 5……  WAITER, OH WAITER, YES PLEASE. ANOTHER MERLOT PLEASE! There is generally some kind of cap on it like a present can only be shifted 5 times until it is out of play. At my knit group parties we all brought 3 small gifts (under like 5 Euros each) but one had to be hand made.

Let the mayhem begin! 

The most complicated one I have experienced involved dice. One really, so die (although this word always feels wrong to me for some reason). There was a chart. Roll a one and you open a present. Roll a 2 and everyone moves one seat to the left (but the present stays behind and you inherit the person to the lefts present). Roll a 3 and you take someones present….. This sort of thing. It was fun and all but mostly I ended up with a headache trying to keep up with it all. It doesn’t help that it was in one of my Dutch classes so it was first thing in the morning and there was no booze.

Seriously, the point is to have fun so just go with it. I promise you will not be the only person confused. And there is great satisfaction in bringing the gift that is getting fought over. 

The Food

This will also vary from party to party. Most of the celebrations I have attended have been is a cafe so you were free to order snacks. If it’s a large private gathering there will be snacks and soup. Soups. Whats with the soup? At every Dutch party I have ever been to I have been handed a bowl of tomato soup. (I asked about this and a Dutch friend literally said “tomato soup is a staple of Dutch cuisine” with, like the most serious look on her face. Like questioning the soup was the most ridiculous thing she had ever heard.  Uuummmm. Hilarious) There will be bread and some bowls of vegetables. If things are really getting fancy there will be food on sticks. Everything tastes better on a stick, right? Some possibilities are bits of chicken with a peanut sauce or a tomato, basil and mozzarella combination.  It varies a bit but generally it sticks to this theme. There is also a gourmet option. This is only for small (mainly family) gatherings. Basically it’s a hot plate in the middle of the table and everyone cooks their own food. I’ll get more descriptive about this in my next post about what happens after Sinterklaas leaves and we can get into a proper Christmas.

Me modeling the favorite gift a knit group party years ago. Sadly, this beauty did not come home with me. 

So there you go. Don’t forget the drinking. There will always be drinking. Don’t feel intimidated. If you are lucky enough to get invited to one of these then you will be with friends who will help you through. Just smile and remember that everything is meant to be fun, even if you have to read a poem about yourself that mentions your inability to tell jokes properly or the fact that you are never on time.

Have you read my other posts about Christmas in the Netherlands? NO?! GASP! It’s OK, I’ll link them here: Part one: Sinterklaas is coming to town

What’s next? You didn’t think we were done, did you? There is so much more! Next we get to talk about what happens after Sinterklaas gets on his boat and heads back to Spain with sacks and sacks full of naughty children he will enslave for the next year. I always try to end things on a positive note.

Wait… There is also New Years to talk about!

3 Comments on “Christmas in The Netherlands – Part 3: Celebrate Like an Adult

  1. Pingback: Cheers to a wonderfully calm Sinterklaas 2020 – Mommy on a Mission

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