Welcome to the nineteenth day of Blogmas with Sara Laughed, where I’m blogging every day ’til Christmas Day. Head over to my Blogmas calendar to see the full collection, or click on the gift tag below!
American Christmas is difficult to compete with. From the piles of presents to the omnipresence of “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” Americans turn a holiday into a season. I love it — the candles, the gifts, the family. So a part of my was nervous to spend my first Christmas in the Netherlands this year; not just away from the culture I grew up with, but also the family I grew up in.
Christmas in the Netherlands is a little more subdued, I was told before I moved. And I’ve found that, to some extent, that’s true. Families don’t typically exchange gifts for Christmas in the Netherlands, for example, because the Dutch gift-giving holiday of Sinterklaas comes just a few weeks before. But the holiday is just as much a season here. Trees are wrapped in twinkle lights, there are large gift boxes in every store window, and I still can’t seem to escape Mariah. In some ways, Dutch Christmas celebrations are even one-upping the American ones. One example: Leiden’s floating Christmas markets, which are positioned on the canals.
I visited the Christmas market, or kerstmarkt in Dutch, a few nights ago with Ken and a new friend. My friend is like me: a continent-hopping cultural hybrid. Both she and I have Dutch parents, but grew up in another country and made the move back alone — me from the States, her from Australia. One fun aspect of our friendship is that we share a cultural framework of sorts. We both inherited our Dutch identity from our parents, and are shaping it ourselves for the first time now. With that come some Dutch Christmastime firsts!
For example: oliebollen.
Oliebollen are deep-fried balls of dough and raisins, coated in powdered sugar. The name literally translates to “oil spheres” in English, which Ken finds hilarious and reminds me of regularly. They’re delicious, but have a knack for sprinkling powdered sugar all over your clothes when you take a bite. I’d had them before, but never at Christmastime!
Carbs in hand, my friend and Ken and I spent some time wandering the markets. The Christmas market is made up of little wooden stalls, shaped like houses, which are lined up next to each other on a floating surface on the canal. Some were selling jewelry, or soaps, or tea. One was selling beautiful prints of hand-drawn maps of the city.
Another fun aspect of the Christmas market was the skating rink, which was also positioned on the canal. Like the oliebollen, this is something that was a part of my parents’ experience but never a part of mine. My mom has told me stories of childhood memories of the Elfstedentocht, when the canals freeze over and people try to skate from city to city. Though that’s not a Christmas memory, it is a part of how she experienced winter in the Netherlands. Growing up in the US, I never learned to ice skate, though many of my friends did. It’s something I’d love to learn now, though it may take more confidence than I have to skate on the canal!
At the end of the night, Ken and I dropped my friend off at the train station in Leiden so she could make her way home. As fun as exploring the markets were, the parts of this night that I’ll remember are the time spent with her and Ken. Of course, as every cheesy holiday rom-com likes to remind us, that’s the real value in the holidays: not the experiences, like ice skating; or the treats, like oliebollen; or even the gifts you may or may not have under the tree. It’s the people, and the memories you make together. So while I’ll miss my parents this Christmas, as they’ll be celebrating it back in the States, I’m enjoying making memories of my own here, with friends both old and new.