Christmas in the Netherlands

Christmas in the Netherlands

Wilco Van Herpen
Christmas in the Netherlands

A trip to the Netherlands for Christmas not only provides a chance to enjoy holiday cheer with friends and family, but also an opportunity to be together, forgive and share amid the winter weather.

Years ago, when my mother was still alive, she made my sister and I promise one thing; we would, as a family, meet each other at least once a year, preferably at Christmas. We kept the promise and just once we were not able to go to the Netherlands. That was in 2008, the year that my mother passed away, but also the year that Şira, my daughter, was born (in December). For us celebrating Christmas is more than just a family visit; it is paying respect to my mother’s wish. At the same time it is a perfect opportunity for Şira to improve her Dutch and learn a bit about the Dutch culture.

Actually, in a way you can compare Christmas with Şeker bayram (Sugar festival, at the end of the month of fasting). For many people it is a time to be together, to forgive and to share. It is not only a feast for the active believers but also many people who do not (regularly) visit a mosque or church to celebrate important religious holidays.

It was when I arrived in the Netherlands when I was pleasantly surprised with the news that a nephew of mine, Marijn, will be getting married in August 2015. As a special request, Marijn and his future wife asked me if I want to take the pictures on the most beautiful day of their life. The location will be the Loevestein Castle near Gorinchem, a wonderful romantic place that is extremely suitable for a dream wedding ceremony in my opinion. To get an idea about the place, Annelies (the bride) and Marijn took me to the castle to show me around.

It began at the entrance; after passing the bridge, the only entrance by land to this castle. To enter you have to use a key; this key opens the gate but also many secrets beyond the castle’s entrance that otherwise never would have been revealed. Directly after the entrance there is a steep staircase that leads to the kitchen. Everywhere I looked I saw keyholes made specifically for children on the tour. Here, in this small castle somewhere in the middle of the Netherlands, they organized a tour specially “tailor made” for children. At these spots they give an explanation about the object or scene you are looking at and you can turn on a speaker with the key that gives you all the information.

Visit to Topkapı

Suddenly, another visit to another palace slipped into my mind. Last summer, I went with my daughter to the Topkapı Museum. With an impressive number of more than 3 million visitors in 2014, this is the most visited museum in Turkey. I, as a foreigner living in Turkey for more than 15 years, felt kind of disappointed and sometimes even embarrassed by what I saw in that museum. All the riches and treasures of Topkapı are displayed in a very poor way. After 10 minutes, it becomes so tiring to look at that you start to walk faster and faster, maybe even without noticing. I think all the treasures of the Ottomans can be displayed in a much better way.

Then there is the problem with the toilets. Some of the toilets were out of order or so dirty that even I was freaked out. As a last disappointing point I saw the garden and, as a number-one eye-catcher, I think they can do much (!) better.

Why not make some animations for children and find guides who can speak in such a way that the children will hang onto the lip of the guide (a Dutch saying meaning that you are very interested in the story)? After reading the last sentence, I realize I should write that with an enthusiastic story from a good guide, the whole tour of the museum would become so much more interesting (a suggestion I have for many museums in Turkey). Then there is the way of displaying the treasures of Topkapı. I visited the museum of civilizations in Ankara a couple of times and the way they display their collection is so much more relaxing and therefore interesting. Give some more personal information about the life of the Sultans and children (and adults) will love it.

I do not say that everything in the Netherlands is better, but as a parent I saw many differences concerning how to engage children in a museum!

Let me give you an example: One of the female guides at the castle gives a special tour for children. She explains all about Hugo de Groot, a jurist, pet, statesman, theologian, philosopher and many more occupations. While telling her story, she invites one of the children to join her. This child answers some of the questions the woman asks and she, almost theatrically, manages to talk the child into the bookcase. It is 1621 and after a long preparation Hugo de Groot (who was a ‘political’ prisoner) manages to escape hidden in a bookcase.  The way the woman tells the story puts you back into the Middle Ages. You, as a visitor, become a knight who is guarding the castle. It is so much fun to listen to such a story. They did not have hundreds of things on display but the things they showed were put there with the aim to complete the story.

Of course there are some places in Turkey where they have teams of actors performing a play of how it was during the old times. One of those places is Ephesus (also, sometimes, in the Topkapı palace). I like to see all the people acting in the original costumes of that time. So why don’t we do those kind of tours in more museums here in Turkey (To make things a bit more simplistic, I consider and include ancient cities as museums)? And when you do something like acting, I think it should happen every day, not just on a couple of special days.

Celebrating Christmas with my family was nice. Everybody prepared some part of the meal and together with the food we unwrapped some presents. This was how Christmas should be. Strangely enough, somewhere during our Christmas dinner I had the feeling that my mother was present in my sister’s house, a feeling that filled me with peace and joy.