It might sound funny to you, but when I was little I was never too excited over the Christmas days (yes, that’s plural; the Dutch celebrate first and second day of Christmas on the 25th and 26nd). Like many other Dutch families mine celebrated Sinterklaas with gifts, and opted not to do any gifts for Christmas, which probably contributed to my lack of enthusiasm. Of course I loved getting the break from school, but Christmas primarily meant that my grandparents would come over for dinner and that I had to put on a pretty dress and either panthose or tights (both of which I found extremely uncomfortable). So to me it was like this: Sinterklaas is a child-focused and informal gift festivity and Christmas is a semi-formal, grown-ups dinner party with a slight religious undertone.
The first time I was gone from home for Christmas was when I celebrated with distant relatives in Canada, and I couldn’t believe how different it was! I knew of the gifts, but I was just stunned by the grand culinary performance! I don’t even know if I had ever had turkey before. Perhaps as a fillet, but not the massive, tender golden brown bird that was put in front of me on the table that time. I was intrigued by my uncle carving up the chicken, I was surprised by the distinction between dark and white meat, and I had never heard of a wishbone. And then there were all these other dishes: the stuffing, the cranberry sauce, the massive ham, the sweet potatoes, etc…
In the Netherlands people usually either out do themselves with very fancy and experimental dishes or they do a Dutch gourmet for dinner, the latter of which requires a little bit of explanation. Doing a Dutch gourmet is not like your regular gourmet; it requires each guest to cook for themselves on what can be considered a miniature table top stove set, which includes miniature frying pans (one for each guest) and a shared grill area. Yup, we don’t just ‘go Dutch’ on the bill, we do it on the cooking as well! Other than the gourmet set, there’s platters of raw meat, veggies, sometimes pancake batter, omelet mix and a wide variety of condiments on the table. The gourmet requires a ton of patience (cooking meat in a miniature frying pan takes forever) and it makes a rather messy dinner table (due to grease splatters), but nonetheless it is extremely popular among the Dutch, especially for Christmas and/or New Years eve.
It’s been six years since I was home for Christmas and in the past couple of years I’ve enjoyed a fair share of North American Christmas dinners (and leftovers), eggnogs and gifts (I was even given as a gift once, but that’s another story). After all those years I’m ready for an old fashioned modest Dutch dinner and I hope you are as well. So all there’s left now is to get our hands on an apron and an endless supply of patience and then we’re all set for a Dutch Christmas!