Eight weird Dutch customs

The Netherlands has lots of weird and wonderful customs which only a few insiders know about. So not the tourist favourite mud walking and all that, which we featured earlier.

Sundrum is the name given on the island of Terschelling – and some other Wadden islands – to Sinterklaas (St Nicholas) but with a  difference. Sinterklaas on the islands became part of an older, pagan tradition and on December 6 present-giving is combined with chasing evil spirits – said to be lurking in the chimney – by people dressed up as what looks like haystacks and wearing other frightening ghost-chasing garb. Women are supposed to stay indoors. If they venture outside they will be chased by the Sundrums and tied to a gate.

This is the Netherlands in the 21st century

This is the Netherlands in the 21st century

The Wadden island of Ameland, where Sundrum/Sinterklaas is called Sunneklaas, deserves a mention of its own. At around 5pm in the evening of December 6, the women on the island are chased into their homes by men armed with clubs. When the disguised Sunneklaas comes to visit and hits his stick on the floor the woman of the house is supposed to dance or jump over the stick.  If she refuses she gets a tap with the stick, a light tap but still a tap. The locals are wary of outsiders who, they fear, will make silly comments about trifles such as women’s rights. If you don’t believe us, check this article by the Volkskrant.

Stille Omgang
he story behind the Stille Omgang, or silent procession, dates back to on March 15 1345. The story goes that an Amsterdam man who, feeling he was about to die, called for a priest and was administered the last rites and given the holy sacrament. He was sick afterwards and vomited. The vomit was thrown on the fire and the next day a servant found the host unscathed among the ashes. The miracle host was brought to a priest who took it to what is now the Oude Kerk. From there it made its way back to the man’s house in the Kalverstraat, not once but twice. What became of the sick man we do not know but the event was enough to justify a procession of some magnificence. In 1578 Amsterdam became Protestant and Catholic frippery was forbidden. The procession became a furtive, silent one. It is still held, for dates see the website. Not so furtive any more then.

Midwinter horn blowing is number one on the equally grandly-named national intangible heritage list.  It is another ritual to do with chasing evil spirits – and in this case calling the gods of fertility. It is traditionally done between Advent Sunday and Epiphany. After Christianity replaced paganism, the horn was blown to celebrate the birth of Christ. The tradition is still going strong in Twente, the Veluwe, the Achterhoek and south east Drenthe.  It is said that once you hear the sound of the horn you will never forget it. Here is your big chance:

Prijsdansen Nieuw-Vossemeer
This is a dance contest which dates from 1911 when the annual Kermis, or fair, which had been abandoned in 1854 because of rampant drunkenness and lewd behaviour, was reinstated. In order to keep people from drinking too much, a supervised dancing competition was organised with some very peculiar rules. During the competition – which still takes place in two bars in the town –  dancing pairs must not go beyond a certain boundary and dance around a number of pegs or cones. So no drunken lurching. On top of this each pair dances a different kind of dance. Lurchers and peg bumpers lose

Hindelooper schilderkunst
This is the tendency of the people of the fishing village of Hindeloopen to cover everything in sight with a very distinctive type of painted decoration. Nothing escapes (really: nothing). Imagine the scene in in a Hindeloopen house : Mum, I’m bored. Well, go paint the knives and forks or the roof or something. Actually Hindeloopen art is very beautiful, especially the work dating from the 18th century.

In Hinderlopen, they do try this at home

In Hinderlopen, they do try this at home

Luilak means lazy bones and is celebrated mainly in the province of Noord Holland. It  takes place on the Saturday before Whitsunday when the young wake the old, apparently to alert them to the beauties of spring. All the young are interested in, of course, is making an almighty racket and demolishing stuff so get your bike inside because the tires will almost certainly be punctured ( that is if the wheels are still there).

Eerste Kievitsei
This is the Friesian tradition of offering the first lapwing egg of the season to the Dutch monarch to mark the beginning of spring. The recipient is now the king’s representative in the province. Gathering lapwing eggs is a controversial subject. Environmentalists achieved a ban in 2006 but the practice was reinstated a couple of years later but with a maximum number of eggs per person.

Of course the Netherlands has many more traditions… like the New Year firework throwing death wish and the Easter fires and the birthday rituals. Hell, we could even make a list of the lists.










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