The Best of 2015 International Traditions: Thanksgiving, Dutch Sinterklaas, and French Christmas

Since moving to France almost three years ago, I have lived with two Brits, three Americans, four French people, a Spaniard, a Czech, a Sicilian, a German, and a Dutchwoman. Besides feeling like I’m living my very own version of Auberge Espagnole, the best thing about living in internationally diverse settings is having the chance to intimately get to know, understand, and experience other cultures and customs.

American Thanksgiving:

This year, just like last year and the year before that, my roommates and I organized Thanksgiving and welcomed 17 people of nationalities ranging from American to French to Dutch to Brazilian to Canadian to Indian. For many of our guests, this was their first Thanksgiving, and for the French especially, the idea of piling all the food onto one plate, as well as mixing “both salty and sugary dishes” was simply too scandalous to handle (don’t even get me started on the faux-pas of ruining good champagne by making mimosas). Highlights included having everyone bring over chairs during the torrential downpour, cooking a turkey in our one-temperature-fits-all oven, and enduring the worst of food comas. Thankfully, most of our guests were good sports about tasting all of our American specialities, including canned cranberry sauce, homemade pumpkin pie, and jello (all of which were pre-purchased from My American Market.) Every year I have been so fortunate to have such great friends to celebrate Thanksgiving with overseas, and this year was no exception. I was also invited to celebrate a second Thanksgiving with new friends in Valenciennes!



Photo taken by JL


I don’t think I’ve ever been so thankful.

Dutch Sinterklaas:

This year, we also celebrated Sinterklaas with our Dutch roommate! In The Netherlands, the most important day of the holiday season is actually December 5th, when Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas) comes bearing presents. On the evening of the 5th, the children leave their shoes under the fireplace or windowsill, and during then during the night Sinterklaas with his servant Zwarte Pieten (Black Peters) come to all of the children’s homes. If the children were bad during the year, Zwarte Pieten will take them back to where he lives in Spain and teach them how to behave!


There are usually Sinterklaas parties on St. Nicholas’ Eve (December 5th), where games are played and poems and riddles with clues are read to the children. Our roommate Christy wrote us a great poem in English to celebrate Sinterklaas. Additionally, special candies or cookies called a letter blanket or banketletter (letter cake), are usually offered to guests. Typically, the treat is made into the shapes of the first letter of a person’s first name. Christy bought each of us a block of chocolate in the shape of the letter of our first names from Hema (a popular Dutch chain store in Europe), which explained its sudden burst of letter-themed merchandise!


To celebrate Sinterklaas at our coloc (flatshare), each person had to purchase three gifts for under 5 euros total. Then, the gifts are wrapped and placed on the table (with traditional Dutch Sinterklaas snacks, of course!) A dice is rolled, and if the the roller rolls either a 1 or a 6, they can choose a gift from the pile. If they roll a 3, they may open the gift!

After all the gifts have been distributed, the second round begins! A timer is set (we set ours for 15 minutes) and the dice is rolled. The game is played as follows, depending on what number you roll:

  1. Steal a gift from someone at the table
  2. Give away one of your gifts to someone at the table
  3. Open one of your gifts
  4. Everyone passes a gift to the right
  5. Exchange a gift with someone at the table
  6. Nothing- Free round!

I had an absolute blast helping Christy celebrate Sinterklaas and making her feel more at home. Our hauls included cheap wine, a cool spatula, flavored mustard, a slinky, a lottery ticket, a toy robot, Christmas tea, and candy, amongst other things.

French Foie Gras:

Before all of us parted ways for Christmas, we decided to have one Christmas meal together. Our French roommate made foie gras (duck liver) from scratch, I paired it with an absolutely delicious white wine, and my American roommate mastered his new specialty: rabbit. The meal was topped off by a typically Dutch dessert– apple strudel with vanilla ice cream!


It was really a spectacular holiday season; bonnes fêtes à toutes et à tous!



2 thoughts on “The Best of 2015 International Traditions: Thanksgiving, Dutch Sinterklaas, and French Christmas

  1. Oh, I met your flatmate (via Shannon), I didn’t realise you lived together. Sinterklaas is big in Belgium and Luxembourg too, and I think Alsace and Lorraine. I’m glad it wasn’t a big thing for me growing up, that’s my birthday!

    1. yes! I remember you guys all went to the Brussels food truck festival together! 🙂 Ha, lucky you that we don’t celebrate Sinterklaas ! Happy belated birthday!

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