I asked my lovely friend Sally Roden, to tell me a little bit about the Christmas season in the Netherlands. Sally is from The Hague in Holland, and is the mom to 3 beautiful and active boys. She wrote this piece about the beginning of Christmas in the Netherlands: St. Nicholas Day, which is celebrated around the country of the Netherlands on December 5th. St. Nicholas is the patron saint of children, sailors, and the city of Amsterdam, and visits children on December 5th at night to leave them gifts. I’ll let Sally tell the rest…
Ask a Dutch child what he is thinking about right now (December 5th) and he’ll say: “I hope he’ll come tonight.” Who is he, you wonder? He is Saint Nicholas or one of his Zwarte Piet helpers. Every year mid November, he and his helpers arrive by boat from Spain.
Sinterklaas, as kids call him, travels around the country on his white horse, Amigo. He and his helpers jump from roof to roof and listen at the chimneys to make sure Dutch children are behaving well. In return they can hope for a little present left in their shoe when they wake up in the morning. This shoe has been left by the fireplace overnight with a carrot for Amigo. Of course, songs have to be sung up the chimney to make sure Saint Nicholas and his helpers know they’re there.
Christmas in the Netherlands begins on December 5, Saint Nicholas celebrates his birthday. During the day, he and his Zwarte Pieten (his helper) pay Dutch children a visit at school and at night they leave presents by the front door, after which they all disappear back to warm and sunny Spain. Some treats that are common this time of year are speculaas (spicy ginger cookies, found on on amazon too!), taai taai, or strooigoed (candy that the Zwarte Pieten throw around when meeting the kids. This candy is made up of sweet and soft candy and pepernoten).
Dutch Christmas Cookie Recipes
Christmas in The Netherlands: “Speculaas” Cookies
250 grams (2 cups) self-rising flour (or reg. flour + 1T baking powder and a bit of salt)
125 g (3/4 c packed) dark brown sugar
2 T “speculaas” spices (see below)
pinch of salt
175 g (1.5 sticks) cold butter
1) Mix flour, sugar, spices and salt
2) Cut butter up and crumble it in the above mixture, forming a smooth dough.
3) Let dough rest in the fridge for approx. 30 mins.
4) Warm oven to 170 C (340 F). Roll out dough and cut out cookies with a cookie cutter.
5) Decorate with almonds.
6) Crack egg, whisk with fork. Glaze cookies with egg.
7) Put in oven for 20-25 mins.
30 g (2T) ground cinnamon
10 (2 tsp) ground cloves
10 (2 tsp) ground nutmeg
5 g (1 tsp) white pepper
5 g (1 tsp) aniseed
5 g (1 tsp) ground cumin
1) Mix the following together until it forms a ball of dough:
150 g (2/3 c) butter
125 g (3/4 c packed) brown sugar
10 g (2 tsp) speculaas spices (see above for list)
250 g (2 c) self-rising flour
pinch of salt
2) Roll the dough into 1/2 inch balls (this is the part the kids like!). Place onto baking sheet, and flatten a little. Bake for 25 mins in 160 C (320 F) oven.
See all of our Christmas Around the World articles! So many amazing traditions from different cultures celebrating Christmas.