December in The Netherlands is a real festival. A few weeks before Christmas, there is another event with a similar impact - the birthday of Sinterklaas. Each year he sails to our shores on a boat filled with presents for all the children. And all grown-ups as well, although they buy the presents for one another. It is a widespread tradition celebrated not only by families, but also by groups of friends and colleagues. And everyone eats spice nuts.

On December 6th, one day after Sinterklaas’ birthday, Christmas starts to show up everywhere.  In the supermarkets, on the radio, on the advertisement billboards, in the countless lights that are being put up everywhere and, very prominently, in the Christmas trees. On a Saturday there actually are traffic jams on the roads to the flora-centres in the outskirts of Amsterdam. We bought one too. 

Before the arrival of our two little girls, I had never bought a Christmas tree.  Each year we spent Christmas with our parents, brothers, sisters and cousins in the house we all grew up in. There was always a huge (and abundantly decorated) Christmas tree in the house, and I didn't need the anticipatory pleasure for Christmas in my own home. I don't exactly know why, but it has changed now that we are a little family of our own. So now we have a little (and modestly decorated) Christmas tree. No presents under it though (we've had all that with Sinterklaas), only the crib. 

We'll be with our families again this year, eating sausage-rolls after the night mass (attended by my mother) on Christmas evening. The days after are spent hanging around together, talking, playing games inside, playing football outside, eating and drinking, talking even more, reflecting on the past year, donating for the ones in need and realising that we're all so lucky to be together.


Jan Cleijne is the author of Legends of the Tour, a beautiful and unique graphic novel that captures the heroes and legends of 100 years of the Tour de France. Available in paperback and ebook.