In looking back through the archives, I realized that I haven’t discussed one of my favorite holidays: Halloween. Unlike in the US, Halloween isn’t as big a deal in the Netherlands. There are no seasonal stores dedicated to creepy masks, fake blood, and costumes for every member of the family (including the dog). No one turns their front yard into a graveyard or hangs cheesecloth ghosts from the trees. I have never seen children go trick or treating* in my neighborhood. Halloween is primarily an adult holiday here.
What you will find are haunted houses, theme nights at pubs and cafes, private parties, and of course whatever spooky movies are in the cinemas. Businesses will sometimes host Halloween parties for their employees. Some stores have a small selection (read a couple shelves) of Halloween goods. You can buy costumes, skull shaped lollipops, or cookie cutters and baking dishes in ghoulish shapes. There seems to be less emphasis on sexy costumes and more focus on the scary side of Halloween. I find that a refreshing change. If you want to deck your halls in blood and bones, buying decorations online or making them is your best bet.
*On November 11, Sint Maarten’s day, children go out with lanterns and sing in hopes of receiving candy. This is mainly celebrated in the Noord-Holland province. St. Maarten is the patron saint of children and the poor.
Last year we spent Koningsdag in Zwolle. This year (April 27, sorry I’m late posting this) we decided to stay in Hilversum and see what the Mediastad does for the holiday. Downtown was full of carnival games, rides, food vendors, DJs, buskers, vrijmarkt verkopers*, and revelers in orange clothing. People donned paper or plastic crowns, orange t-shirts, scarves, leis, and hats. Some people painted the Dutch flag on their cheeks and sprayed their hair orange. I even saw one guy wearing the Dutch flag as a cape.
Near the Raadhuis, a bunch of children’s games were set up: bouncy castles, pony rides, sack races, and aquabubble (see below). Kids could also visit the petting zoo or check out the fire truck. And of course, tents full of pancakes, burgers, and candy.
*Vrijmarkt – The rules for selling are relaxed on Koningsdag so you don’t need a permit to sell goods. Many people sell their old unwanted items in what is basically a nationwide yard sale. Kids often end up manning the stalls (aka a blanket on the ground covered in goods to sell) and some also sell cold drinks or homemade treats.
A week or so ago Mike and I went out to pick up Christmas decorations. Mike is a HUGE Christmas fan so this was an important errand. Last year at this time we had just moved in and had no furniture or decorations. Now that we were all moved in (obviously) and had the space, we could get a full-size tree with all the trimmings. In town Christmas trees, or Kerstbomen, only come with their roots so Mike decided to get a fake tree instead. (Not to mention you can’t buy real ones until after Sinterklaas Dag.)
We picked up colored lights for the tree but they weren’t bright enough for Mike. So I went back to the store for white lights which are currently on the tree. (Still not completely sure what to do with the multicolored ones…)
All our Christmas ornaments are in storage in the States so we had to buy new ones. (We didn’t think the ornaments would make it to the Netherlands in one piece.) We kept it simple and went with red and gold balls. The crown and thistle ornaments are from our travels to the UK. Mike was indifferent to garland but I really wanted garland on the tree. I’d seen a tree wrapped in ribbons somewhere and thought it was a nice garland idea so I bought some ribbon. Below is the end result.
In addition to the tree, we have other holiday decorations scattered around the house: a poinsettia at the market, a silver sleigh to hold cards, a cheery bird garland to decorate the bare wall in the living room, and a Lego Advent Calendar.
Tonight is pakjesavond (gift evening) where children get gifts from Sinterklaas in their shoes*. There is a lot of singing songs too. This morning I awoke to a chorus of children singing to Sinterklaas. (I live by a school and Sinterklaas and Piet** visited the students today.) While the holiday is mostly for children, Sinterklaas and Piet have been known to visit businesses from time to time to hand out treats to the employees.
*Some people replace the shoes with burlap sacs featuring a cartoon Sint or Piet design.
**This year not all Pieten are zwarte or black but many colors including stroopwaffel (not kidding). It is a big debate that I won’t get into here but if you are curious there are plenty of articles elsewhere explaining the debate.
This year April 26 marked the first ever Koningsdag (or King’s Day). Previously, the day was celebrated as Koninginnedag (or Queen’s Day) however since the queen abdicated last year the Netherlands now has a king. The Dutch celebrate by wearing orange (the national color), selling things, and partying.
Since Koningsdag fell on a Saturday many people began to celebrate Koningsnacht (King’s Night) on Friday. In Amsterdam, carnival rides and food vendors set up to help people celebrate. Every other shop sold orange clothing or accessories. Streets were lined with orange balloons, garlands, and Dutch flags. Hilversum also had a carnival and food vendors along the main street. Mike and I forgot it was Koningsnacht and decided to head down town for gelato. We grabbed gelato then ran into some of Mike’s coworkers so we stopped to have a beer or two with them. I don’t know if that counts as celebrating Koningsnacht but I am going to count it.
Everyone told us that Amsterdam on Koningsdag is a must see sight and very crowded. I did visit Amsterdam on Friday so I feel like I got a taste of what it would be like on Saturday. However, Mike and I aren’t really crazy about crowds so we opted to visit friends in Zwolle. We still got the food, music, and all the orange but less crowds. We also visited a farm (more on that in my next post).
This weekend Sinterklaas arrived* in town by boat with his entourage of Zwarte Pieten (Black Petes). Children dressed as Zwarte Piet or Sinterklaas lined the river and waved flags or balloons to greet the popular holiday figures. The Piets handed out candy to the children. (Mike was a little disappointed that he didn’t get any candy.) After disembarking from his party boat Sinterklaas lead the children in some songs then proceeded to the parade route. The parade looped all around town. Many stores were closed for the festivities and had signs welcoming Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet.
On our way back from the river, Mike and I ran into a celebration in a plaza that included Batman (yes, all the way from Gotham City) and Dominoes Pizza mascots. Guess everyone really does get into the holiday spirit over here.
Sinterklaas and the Zwarte Pieten will be in town until Dec 6 which is Sinterklaas day when they hand out presents. Though apparently from now until the 6th people give each other candy. The stores are full of pepernoten, kruidnoten, chocolate letters, chocolate coins and euros, as well as Sinterklaas shaped chocolates. All in all this is a pretty sweet way to celebrate and I think I may just pick up some chocolate to get into the spirit.
*Mike took a ton of pictures of the event. You can find the photos on his blog.