America’s Santa Clause is called Kerstman in the Netherlands and while December 25th is officially Christmas Day the celebrations actually begin the last Saturday in November. The customary Christmas tree is known as a paradise tree and may be live pine or artificial tree. Glass baubles, stars, snacks, gifts and candles are items that are generally used when decorating the paradise tree. Gifts are usually distributed on December 5th by either Saint Nicholas or one of his helpers, referred to as Black Peters. With a history of the sea and sailors, it is believed Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors and that he sails from Spain, along with Black Peter, on December 5th. Wooden shoes placed by the hearth are filled with gifts, not by Saint Nicholas, but black Peter who has the honor of coming down the chimney.
The people in the Netherlands have gone from being among the smallest people in Europe to becoming the tallest at an average height of 6′. On a world stage, they are among the second tallest. Of course if you ask them, they will throw in “the best looking” as well. A number of factors come into play, early childhood care and high protein intake with a diet filled with dairy products. While being tall has its advantages, it also has a few disadvantages. With an increase in height it has been necessary to revamp the building codes to include higher doorframes as well as other factors in new construction to create a more height friendly atmosphere.
When the word “Netherlands” is heard, an image of wooden shoes and windmills comes to mind. However, these windmills are not old and passÃ©, there are currently approximately one thousand original working windmills. Windmills were originally utilized to grind corn, cut timer and to eliminate excess water. The existence of windmills in the area dates back to approximately the 1200s. Harnessing the wind’s power is almost as old as man, as is using stone to grind grain; however, it’s unknown when the two met and became one.
Bicycles reign supreme in the Netherlands where the number bikes are doubled over the number of cars. There is at least one bike, generally more, to each individual in the Netherlands. Amsterdam has around 700,000 people and over 1 million bikes. Having over 15,000 km of bicycle lanes it is far more common to see bike racks rather than parking spaces. Most individuals utilize bike power over car power for short-distance jaunts to school, work or shopping. The extensive bike path network covers all the provinces as well as the bordering countries of Germany and Belgium.
With a population so close to the sea, the Netherlands make use of this resource by growing to love the taste of raw herring. Raw Herring, or maatjes, is especially loved with the addition of onions. The center of virtually every town and city contains blue, red and white food stalls with herring available. The traditional manner to devour this lovely dish is as follows: with your head arched back, simply and carefully raise the raw herring over your mouth, lower slowly and take a bite. It can get messy with the onions, so be forewarned.
Orange is the official, unofficial color of the Netherlands. The red, white and blue flag contains no orange, so where did the love of this color come from? The color is associated with the Dutch Royal Family which dates back to Willem van Oranje or William of Orange, born in 1533. Today orange has become the traditional symbol of being Dutch patriotism and having pride in their heritage. The greatest display of orange is on April 30th. This is a holiday in remembrance of the former Queen’s birthday.
The Netherlands is known as a multi-party political system sporting 38 different political parties. This system prevents any one party from gaining total control or power and as a general rule they usually combine their efforts to establish coalition governments. The parties include: Christian Democratic Appeal, Labour Party, Socialist part, people’s part for Freedom and Democracy, Party for Freedom, GreenLeft, ChristianUnion, Democrats 66, Party for Animals, Reformed Political Party and the Independents Senate Fraction.
Netherlands highest point at 322.7 m above sea level is Vaalserberg and is referred to as a “mountain.” This is also the location where three countries, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands intersect. The Dutch refer to this intersection as the “Three-Country Point”; in Germany it is the “Three-Country Corner” and in French as the “Three Borders.”
During the years 1830 to 1919, it was noted as a four-country point which included Moresnet. Between 1917 and 1920, prior to border clarification, five different countries met at this point.
Individuals in the Netherlands follow a fairly strict code of etiquette. It is normal to shake everyone’s hand upon entering and leaving a room. When answering the phone children identify themselves with their first and last name. The greeting of friends and relatives often include a three-cheek air kiss. Once on the right, then on the left and again on the right. Generally every meal is eaten with utensils, this includes sandwiches. Salads are never cut; the lettuce is folded on the fork.
People of the Netherlands have a long history of discovery. A number of inventions came from the Netherlands during the 16th and 17the century. The pendulum clock, mercury thermometer, microscope and the telescope are all Dutch inventions. Christian Huygens was the creator of the pendulum clock in 1656. The microscope invented by Hans and Zacharias Janssen, came into existence in 1590. With this invention he also uncovered micro-organisms. The telescope, discovered by Hans Lippershey, was put into use in 1608. During the 1950s, Maurice Gatsonides, a rally driver who wanted to get a better grasp of his around-the-corner speed invented a device which was later improved and sold as a “road-rule enforcement camera.”
The Netherlands is a country small in size but big in beauty, activities, attractions and history. This is simply a small sample of the interesting facts, not widely known, about the people, traditions and the country.