Netherlands, Dut. Nederland or Koninkrijk der Nederlanden,officially Kingdom of the Netherlands, constitutional monarchy (1994 est. pop. 15,341,600), 15,963 sq mi (41,344 sq km), NW Europe. It is bounded by the North Sea on the north and west, by Belgium on the south, and by Germany on the east. It is popularly known as Holland. Amsterdam is the constitutional capital; The Hague is the administrative and governmental capital. The kingdom includes two overseas territories, the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba in the Caribbean Sea. Both are self-governing parts of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
The Netherlands, on the coast of the North Sea, is twice the size of New Jersey. Part of the great plain of north and west Europe, the Netherlands has maximum dimensions of 190 by 160 miles (360 by 257 km) and is low and flat except in Limburg in the southeast, where some hills rise to 300 feet (92 m). About half the country’s area is below sea level, making the famous Dutch dikes a requisite to the use of much land. Reclamation of land from the sea through dikes has continued through recent times. All drainage reaches the North Sea, and the principal rivers—Rhine, Maas (Meuse), and Schelde—have their sources outside the country.
The Christmas season in the Netherlands really begins in early December with the birthday celebration for St. Nicholas, the children’s saint. Each year, according to legend, the good saint whom Dutch children call Sinterlkaas, travels from his home in Spain to the Netherlands for the festivities.
When Sinterklaas arrives in Amsterdam, everyone cheers, church bells ring and guns boom as St. Nicholas parades through the city on his white horse, his helper Peter by his side.
Party time is on December 5th. The family gathers around the table for fun and feasting. Suddenly there is a knock at the door. Someone dressed as Peter scatters candies into the room, leaving behind a basket full of presents. Everyone takes turns opening a gift and reading aloud a poem.
Before going to bed the children leave their shoes before the fireplace. Tonight Dutch children believe St Nicholas will ride over the rooftops bringing presents to those who were good. (Taken from UNICEF’s Festival Book)