Christmas Traditions the Dutch Living In The U.S. Will Miss

TransferWise content team
3 minute read

Come late November and usually frosty temperatures, festive displays of holiday spirit are found throughout the Netherlands -- and nowadays a great deal deal of sales.

There are several unique Dutch traditions, including lining poems on the inside of gifts to leaving shoes by a chimney to be filled by Sinterklaas, that some Dutch migrants told TransferWise they miss when they spend the holidays in the U.S.

Pakjesavond (Present Evening)


In Holland, Sinterklaas and his helpers pay a visit with presents on December 5th, St. Nicholas Eve.

Children place a shoe by a fireplace or windowsill and sing songs about Sinterklaas (not to be confused with the Kerstmas (Christmas man) who swings by from Lapland on Christmas Eve).

Some kids also leave carrots or hay for Santa’s horse, believing the gesture will yield more sweets or small presents. Many Dutch people only give gifts on the 5th, whereas the 25th itself is reserved for a more modest celebration and family dinner.

Zwarte Pieten


Santa’s helpers, the Black Petes, arrive ashore with St. Nicholas, often in a procession that includes ringing church bells and the passing out of gifts to children.

Kids are told that the Zwarte Piete keeps tabs on all of the things they have done over the past year in a big book. If they were nice, they’ll be humble rewarded with presents.

But if they were naughty the Zwarte Piete will stuff them in a sack to be transported back to Spain -- and taught how to properly behave -- for a year.

Poetically presented surprise

At Sinterklaas celebrations, which often occur in school classes, names are written on paper and thrown into a hat.
Each person present takes a name, and is then tasked for creating a personalized gift for the recipient -- often based on their favorite hobby. They also pen a poem to place inside, giving a clue about themselves.

Some sweet customs


At Sinterklaas parties, a special biscuit is baked in the shape of each of the attendees’ names.

Another popular partygoer biscuit, Pepernoot, is spiced with cinnamon. For a Christmas cake, the Dutch enjoy the wreath shaped Krestkrans, which is skillfully filled with almond paste (sometimes made upwards of a month in advance) and placed in a puff pastry. The goodness doesn’t end there, as it’s then often glazed with apricot or cherry jam.


Living far away from their homeland, Dutch migrants tell us that their family across the pond is the number one thing they miss over the holidays (and often in general).

Each family, after all, has their own unique traditions and customs, even when many new ones are created abroad.

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