Meryem has spent most of her life in the Netherlands and she presents here her vision of the Christmas period.
Born from Turkish parents, but raised in Holland, I have learned about the meaning of Christmas through school, television and friends in the street.
Actually we have in Holland. a bit earlier in December (the 5th), a big celebration, Sinterklaas. This is a typical Dutch children celebration, an old man with a long white beard comes by boat from Spain, together with his many black helpers to carry and give away all the presents for the children that had been good last year.
As a child, we really believed this man was real. The night when the presents would be given, ‘pakjesavond’, is celebrated in general within the family, with funny poems in name of Sinterklaas or his black helper, named Zwarte Piet (black Piet). Also big letters of the alphabet made of chocolate are popular around this event.
In my family we did hardly anything with this party; sometimes my father put chococalate in our shoes (that was the place Sinterklaas would put the presents in), but we always knew that my father did that and not Sinterklaas. I remember, one time in secondary school, I burst out crying that Sinterklaas skipped us this year, I felt really sad about it. The teachers of school all decided to bring us a big box with presents for me and my brothers. We were so happy that night!!
Sinterklaas is, therefore, mainly a big party for children, although adults, students and elderly celebrate his arrival to Holland. Around December 5th, you can see many Sinterklaas- look alikes and the black helpers, with white horses. The event has its own songs and decoration and also the shops are full of presents especially for this event.
Christmas in Holland looks a lot like the Sinterklaas celebration. Through European immigrants in America, Sinterklaas became Santa Claus and there was a link to Christmas.
As I don’t have a christian background, we did not celebrate the birth of Jesus at home; I understood from my outside world what is that about, and family gatherings, and going to church.
When I married and got a family-in-law, every year I witnessed a nice tradition with Christmas: the night before the first Christmas day, the 4 brothers and sisters, their partners, and their mother came together. Either there was a special cooking going on, or we ordered a huge meal for the 9 of us. Under the christmas tree, all presents we bought for each other were waiting to be unpacked. We played a family game, like taboe, and the winner of a round could pick a present and open it.
Going to church is done less and less in Holland; now, mostly elderly living in villages go to Church.
For the majority of the people in Holland the Christmas days are days you spent with family and give each other presents.