Many expats celebrating the festive season in the Netherlands will also incorporate traditions from home. Sometimes it can be an overwhelming time, especially for kids, and parents need to decide what to celebrate and when, how to accommodate all those holidays from both worlds, how to explain to the little children all these differences and at what age to start. Here, we discover about winter traditions from Ukraine.

Wintertime, rich with holidays, is a busy and hectic period for many – but for expats, especially those with children, it can also be confusing when they come from a country with different traditions.

Dutch traditions

Haarlem Christmas lights

Haarlem’s festive lights

In the Netherlands, the most significant holiday is Sinterklaas, celebrated on 5 December, when kids get their biggest presents. The gifts are discussed at school, there are TV shows and performances, dedicated to Sinterklaas and his helpers and it’s impossible to avoid celebrating it without feeling excluded.

Who is Sinterklaas? In short, he’s the prototype of Santa Claus. He comes from Spain by a steam boat for about 2 weeks, during which kids get presents in their shoes. On Dec 5 they get the biggest presents and families have a festive dinner.

Right after Sinterklaas has left, the Christmas fever begins: all the decorations and attributes get quickly changed and Christmas trees start appearing for sale on every corner. For Christmas itself, celebrations are focused around a family dinner.

What do the Dutch eat for Christmas? Traditionally, it is wild meat, meat rolls, especially pork cooked with pear, turkey, Brussels sprouts, puree, cranberries, sour cabbage. On the second Christmas day, the Dutch usually eat cheese fondue or gourmetten.

At the end of the year, how do the Dutch close the old and welcome the new? New Year’s Eve is the last celebration of the festive period when there is normally big firework displays and parties – not this year though. The festive ornaments are dismantled right after or sometimes even before New Year’s Eve. The new year can usually start a refreshing dip for some people. On 1 January, around noon, everybody would normally be welcomed for the New Year’s Dive in the Hague or Zandvoort – again though, this won’t be happening this season, with the official event cancelled (read more here).

Christmas family time

Julia and her family in Haarlem

Ukraine traditions

In Ukraine, where we come from, everything is different. Sinterklaas transformed into two different guys who bring presents to kids: St Nicolaus and Father Frost, with his granddaughter Snegurochka.

St Nicolas (known as Svyatyi Mykolai) comes on 19 December and kids get a small present, but there’s no big celebration, and many families tend to totally ignore it.

The festive period starts with the celebrations on 31 December, New Year’s Eve, which is the biggest feast of the season with special dishes, nice clothes (shoes are not important, if the celebration takes place at home, as the shoes are left at the door), and the Chinese symbol of the next year crowns the table, together with the TV, broadcasting New Year’s Eve concerts and the president’s speech. The food, as well as the colours of the outfits and ornaments, must align with the symbol. Like, if it’s the year of the Earth Pig, the colors should be brown, golden, yellow, grey and no pork on the table. It’s a custom to get your house clean and all the things in order before the new year begins. The kids get presents from Father Frost and his granddaughter Snegurochka.

Ukraine festive traditions

Ukraine festive traditions

Christmas in Ukraine is on 7 January, with a quiet family dinner, preceded by a special dish – kutya (grains with raisins and honey) –which must be eaten before any other food.

Then, there is the Old New Year on 14 January, with a special tradition of going from home to home, singing songs and wishing good to the household, while throwing some seeds/grain for the hosts’ wealth, and receiving coin or some treats. It’s not a public holiday but is celebrated by many.

The winter holidays finish with Epiphany on 19 January, with its amazing tradition of jumping into the ice-cold water of a lake or river, usually frozen at the time, so the people have to drill a hole in the ice to be able to plunge! Some do simple holes, some cut a cross, for more holiness.

The reason for the ‘delayed’ timing for the festive traditions in Ukraine is that the Orthodox Church didn’t adopt the Gregorian calendar and still lives according to the Julian calendar which is 13 days behind. In addition, religious holidays are mixed with the pagan traditions, for example: from 7 to 19 January ‘the heavens open’ and the girls can see their future (most importantly, how their love life will look like) during this holy time. There’s a wide variety of fortune-telling techniques to choose from.

So, for expats, in addition to the dilemma what to buy for presents and where to celebrate, there’s another one – what to celebrate and when, how to accommodate all those holidays from both worlds, how to explain to the little children all these differences and at what age to start.

What traditions from home have you brought to Haarlem? Please comment and share your experience.

The ‘delayed’ timing for the festive traditions in Ukraine is that the Orthodox Church didn’t adopt the Gregorian calendar and still lives according to the Julian calendar which is 13 days behind

This article is based on the original blogpost on Frogs in the Box.

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Main photo taken in the Dobrovelychkivs’kyi district, Ukraine (photo: Roman Trofimiuk; link)

Julia Smile
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