Every country has its calendar of celebrations, as well as its own customs to mark birthdays and other life events. The Dutch are no different. Having been here for over a full-year I have witnessed the full calendar cycle, as well as birthdays, weddings and other celebrations. Here’s my take on the Dutch-style of celebrating.
The Dutch have some lovely traditions to celebrate the arrival of a new baby. One time I was in a jewellery shop being served and the owner presented me with a small plate with a large round thick cracker, covered with blue sprinkles. I had no idea what was going on, until my husband said that their colleague had just had a child, and this was the tradition. It’s called beschuit met muisjes (biscuit with mice), and has pink or blue sprinkles depending on, well you can guess. These are served to the first visitors when a new baby is born. On our walks round our neighbourhood, sometimes there are large signs in the front gardens of houses, or in the windows, announcing the birth of a new baby. Usually the name, and maybe a picture of a stork, make up the display.
This signage continues for regular birthdays. The Dutch have no issue with having big banners in front of their houses, announcing the birthday of the inhabitant. Last year my husband turned 50, and I discovered just in time the tradition that when you turn 50 you’re said to have met ‘Abraham’ if you’re a man, or ‘Sarah’ if you’re a woman. This is based on the Biblical reference John 8: 56-57. So, it’s not uncommon to see a giant inflatable cartoon style Abraham in someone’s garden. I was a little nervous about going all out for my husband’s birthday, having not actually seen anything similar at that point, so I opted to play safe and just make a banner. I enlisted the help of two of my new nieces, we wrote a little poem, and surprised my husband on his big day. It brought a few congratulations and smiles from neighbours and passers-by. It said: ‘je kunt het niet aan hem zien maar onze Valentin is vandaag vijf x tien’.
When it comes to regular birthdays, I had been very confused by the limited amount of birthday cards in the shops. Apparently, the Dutch don’t give birthday cards generally, only when they’re not actually going to see the birthday boy or girl. So, turning up at a party with a gift but no card is just fine. I was equally flummoxed when Valentine’s Day rolled around. I’m used to this being a full-on commercial event with the shops reminding us weeks before with arrays of pink and red gifts stocked on shelves every time you go to the supermarket. Valentine’s Day isn’t such a big deal here, and I even struggled to find a card in a card-shop.
It was a huge surprise to me that the Dutch cannot get married in Church. It is purely a legal contract, and is done at a town hall, by a civic representative. There can be no hymns or prayers said. Of course, there are hotels and other venues you can pay to host your wedding, just not in a Church. A lot of people, however, opt to have a church blessing after their civic ceremony. That said, my sister-in-law’s wedding (trouwerij) last December was a wonderful affair, with words spoken by the ‘trouwambtenaar’ (marriage officer) and talks from chosen family and friends.
- loyd aid after he "flatlined" — a term he used to describe when "your heart isnt really doing anything at that moment." frreggrgr greg