A taste of the holidays
The holiday season here starts with Sinterklaas. Sinterklass has been the most culturally shocking thing to happen since I arrived. About three weeks before Sinterklaas, which occurs at the start of December (December 5 in 2015) he arrives in the Netherlands. Each year he lands in a different place and there is a large parade that is broadcast on TV as well. Every night for the three weeks leading up to Sinterklaas children put their shoes out with a carrot for his horse and sing a song. In the morning they will find small gifts, candy or pepernoten (small seasonal cookies) in their shoes. On Sinterklaas itself the kids receive the majority of their holiday gifts, I like this because it takes the consumerism out of what is supposed to be a religious holiday. In America Christmas is such a mess, but this separates the wild need to buy unnecessary crap from the intention of the holiday.
American Santa Claus comes from Sinterklaas, but what I find most shocking is Zwarte Piet, or Black Piet. Zwarte Piet is a helpful friend of Sinterklaas, historically they were slaves but have since become his "friends." Zwarte Piet is part of Dutch tradition, but I have not seen a black person as Zwarte Piet, rather he is portrayed by people in black face - which has always been a huge No-no in America, so to even see this was quite shocking.
Luckily, since my host family lived in America for three years they understand and like to participate in American holidays. For Thanksgiving we special ordered a turkey and made a somewhat traditional American feast, it was very thoughtful since I had only been here for about 6 weeks when the holiday season was upon us.
I enjoyed a beautiful Christmas meal with my host family during the day. On Christmas evening I had gourmetten with friends. Gourmetten is a somewhat traditional Dutch meal where you all sit around a small grill on the table and cook your own meat, vegetables, pancakes and eggs as you like them. It was delicious and so much fun, but you really smell like food afterward.
In the Netherlands, Christmas Eve isn't so much of a thing, but second Christmas on December 26 is. A friend of mine hosted a lovely pot-luck meal at her place. We had a great time enjoying each persons food and I brought a pumpkin pie, which was a first for most of the people there.
On New Years Eve I joined friends for drinks and dancing until the fireworks really started to go at midnight, then we went to Stekker in de Tunnel, a party hosted in the loading dock area of the Hoog Catherina shopping mall near Utrecht Centraal. It was unique for me because the party didn't even begin until after midnight. I like the style of the parties though, they had a place that would work so they set up DJ booths and a bar, rented lockers for guests belongings and had a party until 8 am the next day. It was a blast and I made some great new friends.