Focus on Family: Holland

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The Netherlands is often referred to as Holland, but Holland is, in fact, a province in the west of the Netherlands. The Netherlands is located in the North Western part of the mainland EU, bordered by Germany to the right and Belgium to the south.

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Mila is a 32 year old physiotherapist from Kralingen, a village in the south of Holland, and I chatted to her about family life as part of our ongoing Focus on Family series highlighting the different regions in which OLA works.

She grew up not far from the home she now shares with her husband and two children, and her parents still live in the family home.  Her husband is also a native “Nederlander”, and their home language is Dutch, although both speak English as it is a requirement for their jobs.

The Importance of Family

Mila explained to me that family is very important in the Netherlands, and particularly in the village where she lives. The family comprises of the nuclear family, parents and children, the grandparents and extended family, and then goes on to include the greater community.

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“Family is mainly seen as the nuclear family unit. We all live together, but extended family lives nearby.  We see our children’s grandparents at least once a week to visit, but if they are involved in childcare, we would see them most days.”

When I asked about the difference between city and rural living she said that life was somewhat slower in the countryside and that once young people settle down and start their families, they tend to aspire to the slower pace of life, but it’s not easy as the cities are where the work is.  She added that more residential areas are being built close to the cities, specifically to imitate rural living, allowing people the “best of both worlds” with an easy commute.

I learned that grandparents play a very important role in family life in the Netherlands and because child care is so expensive, they are often the caregivers for their grandchildren.

Speaking of the challenges of family life, she went on to say that life had changed in many ways since she was a child, becoming busier and more stressful. She added that while some of the traditional roles have changed, there are still more men in the workplace and women tend to work part time or stay home with the children.

Family Celebrations

The biggest “family” days in the Netherlands are Christmas and Sinterklaas.  Sinterklaas is celebrated on the evening of 5th December, the day before St Nicholas’s birthday.  It is an especially big celebration for the children, much like Christmas Eve in the rest of the world.  Gifts are exchanged with poems hinting at the surprise enclosed in the wrapping.

Sinterklaas, directly translated as Santa Clause, refers to St Nicholas.  In Dutch tradition he looks somewhat like Santa, with a similar white beard and red clothing, but he rides a white horse and carries a red book in which he keeps a record of which children have been good and which have been naughty.

Christmas begins with Nachtmis, midnight mass on Christmas eve, followed by breakfast. The celebrations then go on for two more days!  Its a time of togetherness for immediate family. Unlike other parts of the world, there is no exchange of gifts at Christmas.

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The Best thing About Family Life

Mila told me that for her, the best thing about family life in Holland was time spent with her children.  “They are small for such a short while, I enjoy the time I spend with them. I enjoy outdoor activities with my husband and children. We cycle a lot and spend much time walking in the countryside,” she said.

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When asked whether she thought the World Meeting of Families was relevant today, she replied, “Yes, I believe it is very important.  Family values are being lost in the world and it is important for families to stand together in faith and build and re-enforce those values.”