By Jorietha Rabie
In the Netherlands we celebrate St Nicholas on 5 December and then Christmas on 25 December. It is not the same celebration and St Nicholas doesn’t replace Father Christmas.
Our family has decided to use the opportunity to exchange our large gifts on St Nicholas’ Eve, instead of on Christmas Day like we used to do. On Christmas Day we only exchange small gifts that fit in the Christmas stocking, and we focus on the true meaning of Christmas while enjoying our time together.
I cannot describe how much we miss our family and friends who cannot be with us. I miss sitting with them around a big kitchen table in the heat (and darkness) of South Africa. Especially when I see how everybody celebrates Christmas with grandmothers and grandfathers.
Being so far from my loved ones is one of the most difficult things ever, but I am unbelievably thankful for the friends I have made here in the Netherlands and that we can share this special time with them.
We have a large group of friends here who are also from South Africa, and we are like family to each other. We still enjoy a traditional South African meal here in the Netherlands. We move our furniture out of the way in our small houses – everybody brings not only food but also tables and chairs. We try to see how many of our “family in the Netherlands” can fit into these houses.
Christmas time in the Netherlands is unbelievably beautiful. All over Europe there are lights and Christmas markets where you can ice-skate outside and enjoy glühwein. We try to visit at least one or two of these markets with our friends. We dress in warm clothes and turn it into a whole outing for the day or weekend.
All the shops are closed on Christmas Day, and your Dutch neighbours bring you Christmas cards. People put the cards on the fireplace in the living room or hang them over a piece of string. It is nice to see how much the Dutch value a card and that they do not care about expensive gifts.