I spent the Christmas holiday in Holland among Surinamese using the occasion to learn about their history and social life. The holiday celebration particularly among the Surinamese immigrant community is similar to ours in Guyana and in New York.
Incidentally, there are quite a number of Guyanese who live in Holland having migrated to Suriname and then made their way to Holland; most are married to Surinamese.
As in America and the Caribbean, the celebration is becoming kind of secular, in which all groups participate – not to take away from the spiritual aspects of the holiday from those who attach deep religious meaning to it.
The end of year seasonal festival in Holland has been part and parcel of the wider cultural landscape in Europe. The season has its own aura and even non-Christians are caught up in it.
The Surinamese Hindustanis in Holland celebrate the season, as other non-Christians do in NY, in their own secular way with a Christmas tree and decorations. They prepare their own ethnic meals and drinks (ginger beer is popular).
As is the case virtually all over Europe and in America and Guyana, Christmas is the biggest festival and holiday, and is celebrated with shopping, gift-giving, parties, outings, hosting guests, etc. Although Muslims and Hindus don’t celebrate Christmas as such, there are many non-Christians (Muslims being the largest followed by Hindus) in Holland and around Europe, who partake in the spirit of the holiday season. That was very much in evidence around Holland among the many immigrant communities and among the mainstream Dutch people as they went shopping and hosting relatives, neighbours and friends for meals. I, myself, received so many invitations that I had to politely decline. The people are warm and friendly and they treat their guests with dignity and honour. The emphasis is on family get togethers, and hosts make sure their guests enjoy a hearty meal and lots of drinks.
As is the custom everywhere, children look forward to the holiday and families (including Hindus and Muslims) spend a lot of money on presents for the kids.
Christmas is celebrated over several days in Holland, and like us in the Caribbean the Dutch observe Boxing Day which is a holiday. Unlike in America, the country comes to a virtual standstill for those two days as people go around visiting relatives, exchanging gifts and sharing a meal.
All businesses are closed for the two days except shops that are owned by Muslims, but even they wish shoppers a Merry Christmas. Hindus also close their businesses. Some people take the entire week off from work when the holidays fall mid-week.
After Christmas, as in NY, people go shopping and there are a lot of bargains on virtually every product. Unlike in NY, there isn’t much evidence of Santa Claus in the streets or in stores and the place is not as stupendously decorated as in New York with brilliant lights. There are lit trees at several locations, but nothing like the Rockefeller Center or Flatbush or Richmond Hill. Not even the shopping district or downtown Amsterdam can be compared with NYC in terms of lights and the overall holiday ambience. There is not much seasonal music. But there is evidence of the season everywhere like gifts and sales. The shopping district is teeming with people but not much purchasing is done – apparently because of light purses and wallets.
Homes are decorated and people do have a tree, with other evidence of the celebration in the home – lights, blinds, glass stars, candies, poinsettias, mistletoe, wreaths, pine cones, flowers, etc.
In Holland, I notice people of different ethnic backgrounds celebrate the season together. The Surinamese add their own flavour to the holiday festivities and the Dutch people enjoy the blend. Some ethnic groups celebrate the season in their own unique way just as we do in America.
There appear to be harmonious relations among the different groups during the season, although there is some conflict during the rest of the year.
It is the season of peace and goodwill and it is wonderful to see people of different backgrounds get along. Partaking in the seasonal celebrations helps to foster closer relationships among varied groups. People live better when they understand each other’s cultural celebrations and in cosmopolitan Holland, people seem to be enjoying each other’s company which is a positive development given the hate that has been enveloping the world because of ethnic and religious differences.
As we end the year, we must stay focused on the message of the season to love and appreciate each other. As we end the year, we should think of ways to improve the lives of others and reflect on the meaning of the season. We should have in our thoughts those who suffer sorrow and grief; may they find solace, comfort and enlightenment in the New Year.
May the spirit of the season of sharing, of caring, of goodwill, joy and abiding peace stay with us throughout the coming years. Happy New Year!