ERMELO, Gelderland, Netherlands – I’ve always loved snow, though I must admit it’s much more fun to watch it from a nicely heated room than to actually plow your way through it.
Indoctrinated by the perfect Christmas card images of little wooden houses and pine trees that are heavy with a thick blanket of blinding white snow, I’ve always thought of snow as something that makes for the perfect Christmas atmosphere. Every year I hope it will be a white Christmas, but here in the Netherlands, romantic Christmas snow more often than not remains a distant dream.
It hardly ever snows here. Instead, most of the time we’re saddled with rain, its more wet and less romantic counterpart. And when it does snow, it’s not the crisp and immaculate kind you see on Christmas cards, but the sort of wet snow that immediately turns all muddy and completely ruins your shoes.
Fortunately, there’s more to Christmas than just snow.
The Christmas card image is not completely lost here, as we do have pine trees in abundance. Most people take one into their homes as a Christmas tree. They decorate them with lights, Christmas balls and other decorations, like “kerstkransjes.” These are cookies or chocolates with a hole in the middle so they can be used as Christmas ornaments.
As it does for many people all over the world, Christmas offers many Dutch people the opportunity to let out their inner decorator. Some go as far as to turn their houses into glimmering and glittering Christmas palaces that can probably be seen from space, while others believe just some subtle lights will suffice.
Most children in the Netherlands don’t believe in Santa Claus, or the “Kerstman,” as we call him, because we have Saint Nicholas, who brings their presents on December 5.
However, for most retailers this is by no means a reason to hold back with Santa Claus decorations. As soon as the Saint Nicholas celebrations are over, his decorations disappear to make a place for the Christmas frenzy.
At the small Christmas market in Ermelo, there was a meters-high inflatable Santa, and shop windows heavily decorated with friendly-looking Santas, accompanied by dumbfounded-looking reindeer.
In the Netherlands, we celebrate Christmas Eve and the two following days. December 25 is called “Eerste Kerstdag” (First Christmas Day) and December 26 “Tweede Kerstdag” (Second Christmas Day, what would be Boxing Day in some countries.)
Some people go to church on Christmas Eve, while others just stay at home. On Christmas Eve, most people have dinner together with their families. The next two days are used to visit other relatives or to just have a good time at home.
For most people, Christmas is a time to get together with family and enjoy some quiet time.
I hope this year’s Christmas will bring snow, but I certainly don’t expect too much of it. In a way, it doesn’t even matter that much. I love Christmas, even when it’s just a little less than perfect.
Caroline Nelissen is a Senior Reporter for Youth Journalism International.