A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
You know what I just did? Handed in my last school assignment of this year! Around the same time, Facebook kindly reminded me of what I did exactly a year ago: I was heading home to Finland for Christmas.
This year, however, I will celebrate Christmas in Leiden. In a small rental apartment without any familiar Christmas decorations and mummy’s food around, finding the Christmas spirit can be a bit tricky. Luckily, Leiden is not the worst place in the world to try it.
In the Netherlands, Christmas isn’t actually as big a thing as it is in many other European countries. Dutch kids wait for Sinterklaas and his gifts, rather than Santa Claus. Or so they say, at least… I mean, right after the Sinterklaas celebrations in the beginning of December, Christmas steps in and you can’t help but noticing it.
At least in Leiden, it is difficult to find a flower store (or any other store, for that matter) that isn’t selling Christmas trees. Many Dutch people keep their trees in for weeks, and eventually, they burn them down at a Christmas Tree Burning (yep, apparently, that’s an event).
The Dutch Christmas lights I love. I do not miss blinking Santa figures that include all colors of the rainbow at all. Typically, Dutch lights are not over-the-top, rather they are classy and of one color.
What can you then do in Leiden if you’re spending your Christmas here? The Christmas market is of course a must. I may be biased, but after visiting a few other Christmas markets in the Netherlands, the Leiden Kerstmarkt is my favorite.
You can do your Christmas shopping at the market where many local shops have a pop-up store, or you can go skating. You can have snacks, such as my favorite Dutch dessert poffertjes, and of course enjoy a cup of steaming glühwein.
What I like the most, however, is the atmosphere. Last year when I visited the Leiden Christmas market for the first time (that is when the pictures of this post were taken) and was surrounded by all those happy and laid-back people, I felt like I had ended up to a Central European tourist resort – far, far away from the university library.
Even though I am staying in the Netherlands this Christmas, I will be lucky enough to have Christmas dinner with my spouse and some fellow foreigners who also stay in the Netherlands for the holidays. For those students, who might be feeling a bit lonelier, the university has arranged something fun.
Through the Holiday Hosting Program, the international students can find a local family with whom they get to share a Christmas meal. Whilst having a dinner, both the student and the family have a chance to learn about each others’ Christmas traditions. That actually sounds like an unforgettable Christmas experience to me!
In my opinion, the best thing about celebrating Christmas away from my familiar environment is that I get to create exactly the kind of Christmas I want. I can eat the same Christmas foods I have eaten as long as I can remember, or I can order Indonesian. I can wait until the evening of Christmas Eve before I open my presents, as I would do back home, or I can tear them open right away.
In any case, I am planning to enjoy this experience, and maybe next year, it’s time to spend a traditional family Christmas again.
Happy holidays to you all!