The holiday season is a magical time in the Netherlands, when homes across the country are decorated festively to celebrate Sinterklaas, Christmas and New Year’s. From quaint canal houses to stately mansions, Dutch households pull out all the stops to create a gezellig and welcoming atmosphere during the winter months.
Traditions and Decorations for Sinterklaas
The holiday celebrations kick off in November with the arrival of Sinterklaas on steamboat, marking the start of a festive period leading up to December 5th when Dutch children receive gifts. Homes are decorated with various symbols and decorations associated with Sinterklaas and his helper Zwarte Piet:
- Pepernoten and chocolate letters – Traditional spiced cookies and chocolate letters representing the first initial of each family member’s name are put out to set the Sinterklaas mood.
- Shoes and sacks – Shoes are placed by the fireplace or radiator for Zwarte Piet to fill with gifts and treats. Sacks are hung to be filled with presents.
- Drawings and poems – Children make drawings and poems for Sinterklaas which are displayed around the home.
- Cardboard figures and decorations – Life-size Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet figures along with cardboard decorations like the steamboat, gingerbread houses, and Dutch windmills are put up.
The signature colors of Sinterklaas – red, white, and gold – feature prominently in homes at this time.
Christmas Decor Takes Over
After December 5th, Christmas decorations take center stage as homes are decorated with traditional Christmas trim:
- Trees – Christmas trees are typically smaller and feature whimsical decorations like tinsel, cotton snow, and sparkling balls. They are adorned with homemade ornaments, candy canes, candles, and a tree topper.
- Nativity scenes – Intricately carved wooden or porcelain manger scenes are commonly displayed.
- Wreaths – Front doors are decorated with festive green wreaths, often accented with pinecones, berries, and red ribbons.
- Garlands – Boughs of holly and evergreen garlands with fairy lights are draped over fireplace mantels, staircases and doorways.
- Stockings – Decorative stockings for each family member are hung over the fireplace or laid out expectantly.
- Poinsettias – The red-and-green flower pots are dotted throughout homes.
- Candles – Strategically placed candles and tea lights create a cozy atmosphere.
- Angels and stars – Delicate angel figurines and glittery stars are arranged as decorations.
Celebrating New Year’s in Style
New Year’s preparations involve more decorations and feasting as Dutch homes get ready to welcome the new year in style:
- Fireworks and party gear – Many decorate with fireworks-themed objects, party horns, confetti poppers, balloons, banners, and paper lanterns in preparation for New Year’s Eve celebrations.
- Festive table settings – The dining table gets decked out with special china, cutlery, linens, centerpieces and candlesticks for New Year’s Eve dinner.
- Olives and grapes – Traditions include eating twelve grapes at midnight for good luck, and oliebollen (doughnuts). Having these items as part of table decorations is considered essential.
- Champagne and flutes – Bottles of champagne and champagne glasses are arranged decoratively to ring in the new year.
- 2022 decor retired – Out with the old, in with the new! Decorations referencing 2022 are packed away and 2023 ones are put up.
Traditional Dutch Holiday Decorations
Certain holiday decoration items are a must in Dutch households during the holiday season:
The iconic hand-painted blue and white pottery from Delft makes for treasured Christmas tree ornaments and decor items. Delftware porcelain Christmas motifs like angels, bells, stars, and windmills are highly popular.
Salt Dough Ornaments
Ornaments sculpted out of salt dough is a classic Dutch Christmas craft. Salt dough is used to make decorations shaped like birds, fruits, hearts, stars, angels, and other geometric designs which get painted once dry.
Speculaas and Taaitaai
Displaying the traditional Dutch spice cookies speculaas and almond paste taaitaai prominently is standard practice during the holidays. Speculaas are also hung as edible tree decorations.
Large chocolate letters representing the first initial of family members’ names are displayed seasonally. They are part of Sinterklaas tradition and double as Christmas decor.
Baskets overflowing with these tiny spiced cookies are a key part of Sinterklaas decor and consumed throughout the holiday season.
Elaborate candle arches light up windows and fireplace mantels during the holidays. The Dutch fondness for candles takes on full form during the darkest days.
These paper cutout decorations with intricate designs are an art form used to decorate homes traditionally. Sinterklaas motifs are popular designs.
The traditional Dutch syrup waffle is served decoratively in stacked arrangements, sometimes embellished with holiday designs using icing. They make for pretty decor and treats.
Christmas Markets and Holiday Shopping
Part of the magic of the season is in the dazzling Christmas markets and holiday shopping:
- Amsterdam’s Dam Square is transformed into a sparkling winter wonderland with delicacies, gifts, and decorative items for sale alongside the festive lights and holiday cheer.
- Goods like ornaments, home decor, candles, wreaths, Christmas linens, ceramics, and tree decorations fly off the shelves as holiday shopping reaches its peak.
- Vendor stalls and displays boast holiday colors, motifs, candy, and Santa’s reindeer to inspire purchases. Shops decorate their display windows elaborately to attract customers.
- Traditional Dutch treats like oliebollen, snacks, hot chocolate, sweet and savory crepes, poffertjes, and glogg are sold to shoppers taking a break from present buying.
- Carolers, musicians, and entertainment create a magical mood for leisurely browsing and Christmas shopping.
- Special Christmas markets like the one at Het Loo Palace add to the experience of purchasing handcrafted seasonal goods while marveling at the beautiful castle grounds.
Why the Splendid Dutch Holiday Decor?
The Dutch have several reasons for elaborately decorating their homes during the holidays:
- Coziness – Candles, abundant Christmas decorations and gezellig traditions make the long, cold winter nights more comfortable and homey.
- Nostalgia – Beloved decorations evoke warm memories, reminding them of childhood. Passing down decorations across generations is common.
- Religious celebrations – Sinterklaas and Christmas are integral parts of Dutch culture with deep religious roots. Decorations are expressions of faith and celebration.
- Pride – Showcasing decor that has been collected and handed down over the years is a source of pride. Neighborly competition can play a part too.
- Preparing early – Winters arrive sooner in Netherlands, so decorations help spread holiday cheer for the many long, dark weeks until Christmas arrives.
- Entertaining – Hosting gatherings, parties, and dinners is easier when homes are already looking festive and welcoming.
- Traditions – Decorating is an integral Dutch holiday custom, with certain items like candle arches being vital for the seasonal atmosphere.
Regional Variations in Dutch Holiday Decor
While many decor elements are seen countrywide, some regional differences stand out:
- More elaborate Christmas trees and Nativity scenes
- Emphasis on poinsettias and candles
- Saints, angels, and religious motifs feature more prominently
- More emphasis on Old Dutch traditions from Middle Ages
- Tierelantijns paper decorations used more frequently
- Intricately decorated fireplace mantels
- Use of old-fashioned materials like straw
- Maritime motifs like boats, lighthouses, shells, and starfish incorporated
- Beach foraged elements like driftwood, seashells, and pine cones used
- Emphasis on angels, stars, and lights to illuminate long winter nights
- Nature-based materials like winter berries, fruit, nuts, and greens used
- Rustic, folksy style using wood, burlap, and homespun fabrics
- More handmade decorations – salt dough, paper cuts, etc.
- Concept of “living tree” – decorating potted miniature trees
Influences from Other Cultures
Dutch holiday decor today incorporates international influences:
- Christmas trees – Originally a German tradition, Christmas trees are now integral.
- White lights – While candlelight is traditional, fairy lights add American style sparkle.
- Stockings, candy canes – Beloved borrowed trimmings from the U.S.
- Angels, Nativity figures – Overt religious symbolism adopted from other Christian cultures.
- Tropical style – Exotic foliage, fruits like oranges and orchids add global flair, especially in cities.
- Grandfather Christmas – While Sinterklaas prevails, Santa Claus makes cameo appearances.
- Commercialism – Retail marketing introduces new trends, products, and designs annually.
Yet the Dutch still preserve beloved authentically local traditions at the core of their holiday decorating. It’s this ability to skillfully blend heritage with new ideas that make Dutch holiday style so remarkable.
Sustainable Holiday Decorating
Eco-conscious Dutch trendsetters add sustainability to holiday home decor:
- Using solar-powered fairy lights and LED candles instead of real candles
- Skipping disposable decorations and buying reusable, well-made items
- Choosing sustainably produced decorations with eco-friendly materials
- Renting a potted Christmas tree instead of buying a cut one
- Making DIY decorations from recycled materials, nature or items at home
- Gifting homemade edibles and ornaments instead of store-bought ones
- Opting for neutrals versus glittery decorations that shed microplastics
- Shopping locally made, organic, and plastic-free when possible
- Using greenery and paper decorations to avoid plastic and textile waste
Sustainable practices allow Dutch households to celebrate traditionally without excess while protecting the planet.
Outdoing Each Other
For some Dutch households, holiday home decor is also a friendly seasonal competition:
- Lights – Who has the most dazzling outdoor light display on their home or garden?
- Christmas markets – Whose market stall sports the trendiest decorations and goods?
- Originality – Using unique decor ideas and themes makes a statement. Rarity and heirloom pieces add cachet.
- Authenticity – Leveraging treasured vintage family ornaments and time-honored traditions gives that homegrown edge.
- Over the top – Lavish Christmas trees dripping in antique ornaments, fruit, and gifts make an impact!
- Creativity – Clever and crafty DIY projects, often shared on social media, inspire others.
- Newfangled – Incorporating the latest coveted styles and innovations gives serious decor cred.
- Sustainability – Eco-friendly, plastic-free, and recycled decor is now high status and #goals for many.
While simply spreading holiday cheer is the priority for most Dutch families, impressing fellow decorators adds to the merriment for some!
Dutch Holiday Decor Shines Internationally
The iconic Dutch holiday decor scene has reached international fame over the years. Here are some key reasons:
- Dutch creativity shines in whimsical and innovative decorating styles. Their interior design and artistry spreads cheer artistically.
- The mesmerizing magic of intricate canal houses lit up in holiday splendor captivates worldwide audiences.
- International media has increased exposure, like the famous Amsterdam Light Festival.
- Dutch craftsmanship exports internationally on holiday merchandise. Brands like Royal Delft leverage historic Dutch style.
- Sinterklaas traditions have spread to former Dutch colonies like Aruba and Suriname.
- The signature gezellig coziness packs universal appeal. Hygge and other cozy lifestyles draw inspiration from Dutch gemsütlichkeit.
- Dutch pan-European culture blends and remixes holiday influences skillfully into its own unique concept.
- Glimpsing Dutch holiday scenes becomes a bucket list aspiration for travelers worldwide.
From classic Sinterklaas to avant-garde snowflake light sculptures, the Dutch holiday decorating tradition remains unparalleled in conjuring magic, meaning, and merriment when it matters most.
Frequently Asked Questions
When do the Dutch start decorating for the holidays?
Most Dutch households start decorating for Sinterklaas in mid-November and switch over to Christmas decor after December 5th. Some begin putting up holiday decor as early as late October to brighten up the darker autumn days.
What are typical Dutch holiday decoration colors?
Red, white and gold are colors associated with Sinterklaas. Christmas decorations are more red, green, gold, silver and white. Blue and white Delft porcelain motifs are also ubiquitous.
Do the Dutch decorate the outside of their homes?
Yes, the Dutch enthusiastically decorate outside spaces with lights, wreaths, garlands, bows, Christmas figures, lanterns, and illuminated stars. Lights along the rooftops, windows, doors and gardens are most popular.
How long do the Dutch keep their holiday decorations up?
Most households keep decorations up through New Year’s Day or the second weekend of January. However some families with lots of elaborate decor put up Christmas trimmings as early as late November.
What are typical Dutch Christmas treats used as decorations?
Speculaas spice cookies, chocolate letters, pepernoten, taaitaai, marzipan, chocolate figurines, oliebollen doughnuts and candy canes are among popular edible Dutch decorations.
Do Dutch households have both Sinterklaas and Christmas trees?
Some households differentiate trees for each celebration, but most opt for a single Christmas tree that goes up after December 5th, decorated with both Sinterklaas and Christmas ornaments.
The Dutch passion for holiday home decor creates wondrous seasonal beauty, spreads gezellig cheer, evokes nostalgia, and upholds time-honored traditions. From fairy lights strewn along icy canals to candle-lit mantels in cozy living rooms, homes across the Netherlands enchant residents and visitors when they deck out for the holidays. The universal language of twinkling lights and glittering ornaments brings young and old together in celebration. The holidays become that much more meaningful when celebrated in a spaces that feel dressed in their festive best to mark the season. Rather than flashy consumerist trimmings, most Dutch holiday decor retains a sense of authenticity – handcrafted salt dough ornaments cherished for generations or whimsical knickknacks from the local Christmas market imbued with memories. The traditions, style, and spirit expressed in Dutch holiday decor evoke the reasons for the season beautifully.