Saint Nicholas and Islamic Eid score high with Dutch
The old-fashioned Dutch version of Father Christmas, Saint Nicholas, comes top in a survey of traditions in the Netherlands, closely followed by the decoration of his rival's Christmas tree.
Thousands of people took part in the survey on the country's top 100 traditions, and family celebrations come out the winners. The festival following the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan, Eid, makes 14th place, and what do you think of circumcision coming in at number 74?
The Centre for Dutch Culture (NCV) organised the survey, and Queen Beatrix herself launched the Year of Traditions 2009 on Monday here in Hilversum. The idea is to highlight the different customs which Dutch people find important parts of their lives.
The Dutch celebrate the traditional family feast of Saint Nicholas on 5 December with presents and delicacies such as speculaas, a spicy gingerbread biscuit. The more commercial Christmas celebrations come second on the top-100 list, and Queen's Day, held on the late queen Juliana's birthday, when people can sell things on the street, is third.
NCV director Ineke Strouten can be considered an expert on Dutch traditions:
"A tradition is culture, a custom that's handed down from generation to generation. People add things and take things away. Customs aren't constant; they're dynamic. They're very much to do with people's own identities."
It is hoped the year of traditions will make people from different communities more aware of each other's customs. Ms Strouken again:
"The Netherlands is in a period of transition. People from all sorts of cultures live here, and we don't have a good overview of our country's customs any more. People ask themselves why their neighbours are doing things differently."
She also says that "traditions always have a meaning and a function, even if they've changed over the years", and illustrates her point with the example of the sugary aniseed hundreds-and-thousands which Dutch people serve sprinkled on rusks to celebrate a birth.
"Long ago, women were given aniseed to help with producing milk. It was important then, because you couldn't just pop to the shop for powdered milk. Later, children were given aniseed in a bottle with a symbolic narrow neck. The seeds were coated with sugar and became known as 'muizenkeuteltjes' [literally 'mouse droppings']. When present-day rusks came on the market, [....] the sugary things were sprinkled on top and served to visitors at births. It's delicious stuff, but only eaten when babies are born."
Readers can rest assured that the confectionery is now known as just 'muisjes' (little mice).
Philip Smet / Expatica