Where's my Christmas gift?
Don't be disheartened by the lack of Christmas presents in the Netherlands, there is a hidden advantage to the Dutch version of Xmas.
Just the other week, I was chatting online with my youngest sister in the Philippines when she casually asked me: "Are you done with your Christmas shopping already?"
"Uh what, what Christmas shopping did you mean?"
"Are you not giving gifts to everyone there this Christmas?" was the more than surprised reply of my sister.
"Heck, no, I'm not!" I said, typing in the same thing into the chat window.
My sister responded, "What???" and "???"
I started to laugh.
Sitting across from me in the living room is the Dutchman who is giving me this strange look and wondering what has gotten over me — Why am I suddenly laughing? I ignored him and kept on laughing.
Here is the big question: How do we actually explain to the whole world that the Dutch do not give gifts to each other during Christmas? And that instead, they give gifts in a tradition derived from Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas in disguise), the biggest Dutch event celebrated every year on the eve of the saint's 'birthday' — 5 December.
I am sometimes a patient gal and explaining to people this marvelous Dutch myth — or history as some people call it — is just fine with me. But most of the times, I simply get a kick out of it when I see people's faces — or responses such as my sister's in the chat lines — who are caught unawares and surprised that there are no giving and exchanging of gifts during Christmas in the Netherlands.
About five years ago (which was my first Christmas in the Netherlands), the Dutchman knew how to forewarn me of the basics and dangers in gift giving. He said I shouldn't be busy buying anything for him and for his family. And as it is not the practice in the Netherlands to give gifts on Christmas day, there will be no giving and exchanging of gifts by the Dutch family members during the Christmas dinner gathering.
He had to really convince and placate me a little bit, not to feel guilty at the idea of not giving. Buying gifts for his family will only cause unnecessary problems. It will be an embarrassment because gifts are not to be expected. Moreover, since gifts are not expected, they would have nothing to reciprocate the thought with. That's more embarrassment than they could handle!
But before I make my conclusions about this gift-giving argument, let me talk quickly about how the Dutch do celebrate Christmas …
There two days of Christmas: 25 and 26 December. During this time, the locals would observe a family reunion type of event at home. Direct family members come together for a special evening of dinner, drinking and merry making. Other families celebrate Christmas by reserving a table in a fine restaurant.
Though it is the birth of Jesus Christ, I am safe to say that Christmas in the Netherlands applies to both the unbeliever and believer. Truth be told, the Dutch Christmas has become a family tradition; a yearly family tradition of bonding and interaction. I am not a religious person at all, so the family concept definitely works well with me.
At any rate, I didn't want anyone in the Dutch family going home embarrassed after Christmas dinner so I made the decision to go along the flow. Since then —
I AM NOT GIVING GIFTS DURING CHRISTMAS IN THIS COUNTRY!
Yes … never never never … ever.
Not only is this decision a true sign of my, ahem, successful integration into this country (and a heightened Dutchness), it also saves me from spending my euros and going through the hassle of last-minute Christmas present shopping that many other expats are probably busy with.
You see, there is always an advantage from a disadvantage.
21 December 2006
Dutch Pinay / Expatica