Private: Dutch Holiday Traditions

Discovering Dutch Holiday Traditions: A Cultural Insight for Expats

As an expat living in the Netherlands, immersing yourself in the local culture is an essential part of the experience. One of the best ways to do this is by participating in Dutch holiday traditions. The Netherlands is known for its unique and vibrant celebrations throughout the year, each with its own distinct customs and rituals. In this article, we will explore some of the most popular Dutch holiday traditions and provide insights on how expats can fully appreciate and engage in these cultural events.

1. Sinterklaas: The Dutch Christmas Celebration

Sinterklaas, also known as St. Nicholas, is a beloved figure in Dutch culture and the highlight of the Christmas season. Unlike the traditional Santa Claus, Sinterklaas arrives in the Netherlands from Spain in mid-November, accompanied by his helpers known as "Zwarte Pieten" (Black Petes). The arrival of Sinterklaas is celebrated with great excitement and anticipation, especially among children.

On the evening of December 5th, Sinterklaas delivers gifts to children by leaving them in their shoes, which are typically placed near the fireplace or front door. The Dutch also exchange small presents and write humorous poems for each other, often with a touch of gentle teasing. This tradition, known as "surprises," adds a personal and creative touch to the gift-giving process.

As an expat, you can fully embrace the Sinterklaas tradition by participating in local festivities. Attend the Sinterklaas arrival parade in your city, where you can witness the grand entrance of Sinterklaas and his Zwarte Pieten. Join in the excitement by singing traditional Sinterklaas songs and indulging in typical Dutch treats like pepernoten (spiced cookies) and chocolate letters.

2. King's Day: A National Celebration

King's Day, or "Koningsdag," is one of the most vibrant and widely celebrated holidays in the Netherlands. It takes place on April 27th, the birthday of King Willem-Alexander. On this day, the entire country transforms into a sea of orange as people dress in the national color to show their support and love for the royal family.

The streets come alive with flea markets, live music performances, and various outdoor activities. It is a day of national unity and joy, where everyone is encouraged to participate and have fun. As an expat, this is an excellent opportunity to immerse yourself in Dutch culture and connect with locals.

Join the festivities by visiting one of the major cities like Amsterdam or Utrecht, where the celebrations are particularly lively. Explore the bustling flea markets, where you can find unique treasures and experience the Dutch tradition of "handel" (trading). Don't forget to wear something orange and enjoy the lively atmosphere, street performances, and traditional Dutch snacks like "bitterballen" (deep-fried meatballs) and "oranje tompouce" (orange pastry).

3. Carnival: A Southern Dutch Tradition

While Carnival is not exclusive to the Netherlands, it is a significant cultural event in the southern provinces of Limburg and North Brabant. This festive season takes place in the weeks leading up to Lent, usually in February or March, and is known for its colorful parades, elaborate costumes, and lively street parties.

During Carnival, cities and towns are transformed into a carnival-themed wonderland, with locals dressing up in extravagant costumes and masks. The streets are filled with music, laughter, and a sense of carefree revelry. The highlight of the celebrations is the grand parade, where intricately designed floats pass through the streets, accompanied by marching bands and dance groups.

As an expat, you can fully embrace the Carnival spirit by joining in the festivities. Attend one of the local parades, where you can witness the creativity and enthusiasm of the participants. Don't be shy to dress up in a costume yourself and join the street parties, where you can dance, sing, and enjoy the vibrant atmosphere. Indulge in traditional Carnival treats like "oliebollen" (deep-fried dough balls) and "nonnevotten" (a type of sweet pastry).

4. Liberation Day: Commemorating Freedom

Liberation Day, or "Bevrijdingsdag," is a significant national holiday in the Netherlands, celebrated on May 5th. It marks the end of the German occupation during World War II and the liberation of the country. This day is dedicated to honoring the freedom and democracy that the Dutch enjoy today.

Throughout the country, various events and concerts are organized to commemorate Liberation Day. The most notable celebration takes place in Amsterdam, where the Liberation Day Concert is held on the Amstel River. Renowned artists and musicians perform, and the event is attended by thousands of people.

As an expat, you can participate in the Liberation Day festivities by attending one of the many concerts or events organized in your city. Reflect on the significance of this day and join the Dutch in celebrating the freedom and unity that they hold dear. Take part in discussions and activities that promote understanding and appreciation of different cultures and backgrounds.

5. New Year's Eve: Oliebollen and Fireworks

New Year's Eve, or "Oud en Nieuw," is a festive and joyous occasion in the Netherlands. It is a time for reflection, celebration, and looking forward to the year ahead. The Dutch have their unique traditions to welcome the New Year.

One of the most beloved traditions is the consumption of "oliebollen," deep-fried dough balls dusted with powdered sugar. These delicious treats are typically enjoyed with a glass of champagne or a warm cup of hot chocolate. Many cities set up oliebollen stands where you can indulge in this seasonal delight.

Another integral part of New Year's Eve in the Netherlands is fireworks. Starting from the evening of December 31st, people gather in public spaces to light fireworks and create a dazzling display of lights and colors. The Dutch take great care in ensuring safety during these festivities, and designated areas are set up for fireworks enthusiasts.

As an expat, you can fully immerse yourself in the New Year's Eve celebrations by attending public firework displays or organizing your own gathering with friends and neighbors. Don't forget to savor the oliebollen and raise a toast to the year ahead.


Exploring Dutch holiday traditions is an excellent way for expats to connect with the local culture and create lasting memories. Whether it's celebrating Sinterklaas, joining the vibrant King's Day festivities, embracing the Carnival spirit, commemorating Liberation Day, or welcoming the New Year with oliebollen and fireworks, each holiday offers a unique insight into Dutch customs and values.

By actively participating in these traditions, expats can gain a deeper understanding of Dutch culture and foster a sense of belonging in their new home. So, embrace the festive spirit, join the celebrations, and create your own cultural experiences in the Netherlands.