If you feel like skipping your birthday, you may be in for a challenge when relocating to the Netherlands, as birthdays are being held in high regard for children and adults alike. Most companies even keep a register of their employees’ birthdays so that none are forgotten and other companies even have a special birthday committee ensuring that your special day will be special indeed. If you work in an office role, you may find your desk decorated upon arrival and you may even be sung to. It is common practice to bring cake to the office on your birthday and in the same way, children usually bring small treats for their classmates and teacher on their birthday. Some primary schools and day cares may have guidelines for birthday treats, sometimes banning sugary items, so be sure to check with the school or day care. Another Dutch custom regarding birthdays is for children to choose what they would like to have for dinner on their special day and for their little chair, both at school and at home, to be decorated. Decorating the child’s bike is also a traditional Dutch birthday custom in some Dutch families, for all the world to see that this child is enjoying a special day.
Easter and King’s Day
Within the Dutch culture, an Easter egg hunt or sending greetings cards for Easter is not as common as it is in other cultures. However, you will most certainly brighten the day by making an Easter basket with goodies or gifts for your neighbour, housekeeper, babysitter or gardener. Another way to give, would be to invite your elderly neighbour (if you have one) or a few of your colleagues over for an Easter brunch. You may even like to organise an Easter breakfast or brunch for your entire street, sharing Easter customs across cultures and getting to meet some new people. Another festive event taking place in the Netherlands in April is King’s Day- marking the occasion of the birthday of King Willem-Alexander. If you would like to send a card or gift to the Dutch King on the occasion of his birthday, the postal address is listed at the website koninklijkhuis.nl
When invited to a traditional Dutch wedding, you will usually be provided with plenty of instructions about the festive occasion, including any wishes regarding gifts. In Dutch, a wedding planner is called ‘ceremoniemeester’ and though some couples may choose to hire a professional wedding planner, the task of being the master of ceremony is often carried out by a close friend or relative of the couple. Being asked to be the ‘ceremoniemeester’ for a wedding is considered an honorary role which you should take very seriously. Instructions about gifts are most often printed on the wedding invitation but when in doubt, contact details of the ceremoniemeester will be provided. The ‘ceremoniemeester’ is also the main point of contact for any practical and organizational questions regarding the wedding. When the symbol of an envelope is printed on the wedding invitation, it indicates the couple would be happy to receive cash gifts and gift vouchers in lieu of any particular items. Gift vouchers are always a wonderful option, as are Groupons for fun outings or date nights, but be aware that gift vouchers in the Netherlands are often valid for a limited time only. If the happy couple has a garden, balcony or roof terrace, an item that will last for years to come, such as a small tree or shrub which symbolises something that is dear to them, or their homeland or culture, also makes a great gift. Your local garden centre will most certainly be able to help you find something special if you decide to go down the green route.
If you happen to be invited to a religious ceremony such as a baptism, you may have to go beyond the high street or city mall to find a suitable gift item. Though some Dutch cities and towns do have Christian bookstores, you may have to travel some distance to find one. Etsy is a wonderful place for finding religious gift items and for suitable cards you could visit stores such as American Book Center, Waterstones or TK Maxx in the major cities, as finding cards for religious occasions are often hard to find at regular Dutch stores. If you would like to gift a personalised candle to mark the occasion, you may find this option available at some cathedrals, monasteries and convents where candle making is still taking place. Be aware the process can take some time so be sure to place your order well in advance. You will find an overview of monasteries and convents in The Netherlands at the website of the Dutch Association of religious orders knr.nl Given the fact that St. Nicholas is such a popular figure in Dutch culture, a children’s book about St. Nicholaas also makes a wonderful baptism gift for a child.
If your Dutch neighbour, colleague, teacher or friend is having a baby, it is highly likely you will be invited for ‘kraambezoek’ following the delivery of a birth announcement card. In line with Dutch ‘appointment culture’, the times to go meet the newborn will be printed on the birth announcement card, and sometimes you will be asked to phone the couple beforehand to schedule a specific time. You won’t have any difficulty finding gifts for a baby in the Netherlands as there are plenty of stores where you can find adorable items. Some specialized stores are Prénatal and Wijs West but you will also find lots of other suitable gift items at department stores, small independent shops or online. If you are into crafts, you may even like to knit or create your own gift for baby. If you are unsure of what the parents would like for their little one, or what items they already have, you can never go wrong with a classic picture book. A gift voucher for a family photo shoot also makes for a wonderful gift. In Dutch culture, colleagues or friends or family members sometimes team up to fund more expensive baby items, such as a pram, a Maxi-Cosi, a mama bike or a bike seat for the little one, as a shared gift.
In some parts of the Netherlands, the feast of St. Maarten is being celebrated during the eve of November 11th. Children will walk the neighbourhoods carrying lanterns whilst singing traditional St. Maarten songs. It is customary to hand them sweets and tangerines. Be sure to place a candle in your window sill or place a sign in your garden or on your window indicating that children may ring the doorbell of your home on this festive evening.
Though there has been some political and even international debate about Sinterklaas in recent years, the feast of St. Nicholas remains a big festive occasion in Dutch culture. Traditionally Sinterklaas was being celebrated amongst families but these days there are many different ways to celebrate the feast of the generous bishop, riding the roofs on his white horse. Many employers will surprise their employees with a small gift such as a chocolate letter, speculaaspop or a banketstaaf (a sweet pastry filled with the Dutch version of marzipan) to mark the occasion. If you work in an office role or are part of a book club, or play sports, or are involved in a committee or home owners association, chances are you will be invited to a Sinterklaas party at the golf course, the girls scouts or at the home of a colleague. For larger group Sinterklaas celebrations, there will usually be a set amount to spend on gifts, with 5 euros or 10 euros being common amounts to buy a Sinterklaas gift for one specific person. Traditionally, you would also write a personalized poem for the person receiving the gift. If you need any help with that, there are websites where you can download pre-made Sinterklaas poems but be aware you may hear the same poem being read twice if multiple people have been using the same Sinterklaas poem websites. Another Dutch custom is to create a ‘surprise’ by wrapping the Sinterklaas gift in a fun&creative handmade structure. For example, if your neighbour loves cats, you could create a cat out of cardboard or clay, and place your Sinterklaas present inside. During the month of December, craft stores and some other stores will have special kits and supplies in stock to help you create a fun and unique Sinterklaas ‘surprise’. Celebrating Sinterklaas is serious business in The Netherlands so be sure to set some time aside in your calendar during the busy month of December to write St. Nicholas poems and create Sinterklaas ‘surprises’.
With Sinterklaas traditionally being the main gift giving occasion in the Netherlands, aside from birthdays, exchanging gifts at Christmas time has not been as common in the Netherlands as it is in other countries. However, in recent years giving Christmas gifts has grown in popularity and stores will offer plenty of options to help you find the right item. It is common in the Netherlands to write Christmas cards for friends, neighbours, colleagues, teachers and family members who may live further afield. To help you pinch those pennies, the Dutch postal service offers special, discounted Christmas stamps during the month of December called ‘Decemberzegels’. It is common within Dutch culture to ‘go the extra mile’ during the month of December and spoil your housekeeper, gardener, babysitter, your child’s teacher etc by gifting them a Christmas hamper, gift voucher, cash gift or a traditional Dutch Christmas banketstaaf. You will find delicious traditional Dutch delicacies, which make great gift items, at Dutch bakeries (banketbakkerij) but make sure to place an order in advance to ensure the gift item of your choice as this is a busy time of year for Dutch bakeries.
In some Dutch families, it is a New Year’s custom for grandparents to gift a coin to each grandchild on the first day of the new year. If you are starting a family in the Netherlands, you might like to join in this custom. In smaller towns and villages in the Netherlands, it is common practice to invite your neighbours over around midnight to eat a freshly baked oliebol or appelflap and exchange New Year’s wishes.