As we transport ourselves to new places, it can be easy for us to lose sight of our roots. In this story, however, Delft MaMa Maya Levi, originally from Israel, shares with us her journey of reconnecting with her Jewish cultural-religious identity as she settled in the Netherlands. In parallel, Maya describes the Jewish festival of Chanukah as a powerful festival of conscious reconnection with religious roots.
As most children in the Netherlands prepare to celebrate the period of Sinterklaas, some of us expats can be left overwhelmed with this uniquely Dutch tradition, without understanding the history behind it. Some aspects might be shocking (blackface), others might be endearing (leaving carrots in shoes for Sint’s horse). Join us as Delft MaMa Anitha Raj, hailing from India, shares a little background on Sinterklaas followed by her observations of this annual tradition.
The Origins of Halloween
Although Halloween celebrations are very popular in The United States, its origin comes far from the American continent. History dates Halloween celebrations as a Celtic festival, Samhain, commemorated with bonfires and animal costumes on the day before their new year, which used to be the 1st of November.
This celebration marked the end of the summer and the start of the cold and dark winter, a period associated with death and agricultural difficulties. The Celts believed that on October 31st, the spirits came back to Earth and the lost souls could cause trouble; therefore the bonfires, rituals and costumes helped repel the intentions of bad ghosts.
Later on, the Christians celebrated “All Saints Day/All-Hallows Day” on the 1st of November, which was the reason why the Celtic commemoration on the 31st of October became known as “All-Hallows Eve,” and later, “Halloween”.
Halloween in the United States
The Irish and English people brought the Halloween traditions with them during the mass migrations to the United States in the 19th Century, where it became a popular holiday.
It lost its religious and ghostly nature and became a celebration to bring together the community through games, food and costumes. The famous game “trick or treat” then became a fun way of sharing food. Despite the efforts of some community leaders to remove the scary tone of Halloween, this holiday still holds mystery and superstition, especially in the United States.
Halloween in Colombia
In Colombia, many efforts have been made in the last 15 years to diminish the creepy feeling of Halloween. In fact, it is now called, “Kid’s Day.” Schools and community centres promote the celebration of this day by hosting carnivals and kid-oriented shows, such as puppet theatre and magic shows. It is very common in Colombia to see kids wearing a costume to school on the 31st of October.
Funny enough, we don’t have seasons like those in the United States or UK, so pumpkins and spiders are not common at all at this time of the year. And yet, we still use those items for decoration. At the end of the day, kids go from house to house singing something that would translate as, “trick or treat Halloween, I want candy only for me, your nose will grow if you don’t give candy to me.” It might sound aggressive, but it is not taken in a bad way at all. It might refer to the Pinocchio story, were his nose grew longer because of lying. So telling a kid you don’t have candy to share might be considered a lie. My own interpretation!
Halloween in the Netherlands
Not a Dutch tradition?
In the 9 years I’ve been living in the Netherlands, no one has come to my door asking for candy on the 31st Of October. However, when my son was born, I decided I was not going to let this day pass unnoticed. At the time, I was living in Wageningen, a very international town in the east of The Netherlands. That year, I sent my son to daycare dressed as a polar bear and although moms and leaders thought it was cute, they also thought it was a bit weird.
I had also asked around among other expats and found out there was a newly built neighbourhood where many expats lived, and many had decorated their houses for Halloween. We decided to go in the evening with our kids and sing our Spanish Halloween songs, going from door to door to ask for candy. To our delight, we were very well received, even by the Dutch families! Perhaps this might be the only neighbourhood in Wageningen where kids can get candy on the 31st of October.
… how you can celebrate Halloween, Dutch style!
However, more than asking for candy, I wanted my son to enjoy Halloween in the way kids do in Colombia, and I’m sure I’m not the only one! Therefore I have been doing my research and I am very happy to share this info with you:
Halloween shopping night
(Prinses Beatrixlaan, 2284 BK Rijswijk)
Thursday 25th October, from 18:00 – 21:00: dance performances for kids and face painting in de Bogaard Shopping Centre.
Halloween at the Delft Botanical Gardens
(Poortlandplein 6, 2628 BM Delft)
Friday 26th October, from 17:00 – 21:00: Ghost greenhouse, face painting, colouring, pumpkin carving, scary photo booth (DIY), marshmallows roasting at the bonfire, ghostly treasure hunt. You must pay for the entrance and for €2, kids get a stampcard for the various activities.
Halloween at the Stadsboerderij BuytenDelft
(Korftlaan 3a, 2616 LJ Delft)
Saturday 27th October, from 13:00 – 20:00: for kids between 3 and 6 years there are several activities throughout the day, such as pumpkin carving, decorating Halloween cupcakes, making popcorn in the fire pit, face painting, storytelling and a ghost tour through the water playground. See here for more information about the timetable of activities and costs.
Halloween in the Wippolder
(Wippolder, 2628 GC Delft)
Saturday 27th October, from 18:00 – 20:00: this has been a big and succesful Trick or Treat walk to the houses along a planned map route. Kids and parents wearing a costume are welcome to join this fun walk. The route to follow can be found on their Facebook page.
Delft MaMa Halloween Party
(Speeltuin Geerweg, Kleine Boogerd 16, 2611 WC Delft)
Sunday 28th October, from 14:00: Hosted by Delft MaMa, there are costume contests for both the kids and the adults. There’s a Pot Luck (bring a dish!) for food, but drinks will be available at the venue. The fee is €12,50 per family, Pay online via Tikkie. Follow the Facebook event here.
Halloween in de Trees!
(Laan van NOI 104, 2593 BX Den Haag)
Wednesday 31st October, from 13:00 – 17:00: Face painting, treasure hunt, trick or treat, surprise activities at the Zorg voor Party Feestwinkel.
Halloween in de Reinkenstraat
(Reinkenstraat, 2517 CS Den Haag)
Wednesday 31st October, from 16:00 – 18:00: This is a very cosy shopping street in the Hague. Children are invited to go dressed with costumes to sing Trick or Treat. There will also be several children’s activities in the street, such as a spooky ghost tunnel, a candy festival and face painting.
Halloween at Duivenvoorde Castle
(Laan van Duivenvoorde 4, 2252 AK Voorschoten)
Wednesday 31st October, from 16:00 – 17:30 for kids from 4 to 8 years old; from 17:30 to 19:00 for kids from 8 to 12 years old. Activities for both age groups include walking through the ancient castle rooms, a super-scary ghost tour, short storytelling in the attic, face painting, Halloween crafts and roasting marshmallows over the campfire.
Have a spooktacular time!
Blackberries and Memories
Yesterday, I took my daughters blackberry picking. To someone else this may sound like just another day out, but for me it was special. It was special because it enabled me to re-live one of my favourite childhood memories and to share it with my own children.
When I think of it now, it seems a little strange, a teenage girl voluntarily taking her little brother out to pick blackberries. Remember though that this was in the time before iPads, and we had two months of summer holidays to fill!
This particular memory takes place towards the end of the summer break when we had already spent days at the beach, in the park, hung out with friends, set out crab traps, wandered around the house doing nothing in particular and were feeling rested, relaxed, and superbly content. Suddenly it was the end of August, and what had started as an endless vacation was *gasp* almost over. The race was on to make the most of those last sun filled days. I grabbed a few buckets and shouted to my little brother, “come on! We are going blackberry picking.”
Vancouver Island, where we lived, is a magical island of spectacular natural beauty (but that’s another story). It is also covered with wild blackberry bushes that ripen in late summer. Out we walked into the hot sun carrying our buckets like little soldiers on a mission to the nearest patch. After sizing up the bushes to find the juiciest specimens we dropped our buckets and started picking. We worked in companionable silence broken only by the occasional “ouch!” as one of us scratched ourselves or ‘mmmm’ when we were unable to resist a taste. Occasionally, disaster would strike in the form of accidentally kicking over a nearly full bucket or, particularly painful, falling into the bushes. Much to the hilarity of the other sibling.
If I let my mind travel back there now I can still smell the warm, ripe berry smell, part fermented fruit and part earthy leaves that would soon be turning brown. The hot sun burning the back of my neck, the scratches on my hands and the relaxing monotony of picking. Concentrated as we were on our efforts to find the biggest, juiciest berries, we lost all track of time.
Buckets finally full we trudged home with the fruits of our labour. Tired and hot we competed to see who had the most scratches or whose fingers were the purplest, stained from the dark juice.
Back in the kitchen, I made the pastry and, together with my little brother, we rolled it out to fit the pie tins. Then we cooked the berries, adding lots and lots of sugar. By the time we’d assembled the pies and baked them in the oven, the kitchen was a disaster of flour and squashed berries. At about this time, my Mum arrived home from work to find two children who had made a disaster of her kitchen proudly displaying fresh blackberry pies.
The childhood experiences that my daughters have in Holland are very different from my own back in rural Canada. Sometimes this is part of the fun. We get to experience things for the first time together. But other times it can make it hard to relate to each other. Memories that friends back home hold on to because they are triggered by their familiar surroundings have faded into the recesses of my memory. It’s amazing how a simple activity like this can bring those memories rushing back, filling my heart with a warm glow.
Vancouver Island is too far and too expensive to travel back to regularly. However, I am doing my best to bring a little bit of my life in Canada here to share with my family. When I do and when it works, the distance between here and home closes just a little and the effort is so very worth it.
I would love to hear about traditions from home that you are sharing here with your children?
And of course about any good spots for blackberry picking!
Citizens of the Kingdom of the Netherlands*, vassals of the King Willem Alexander “the first”, let your hair down, dress up in orange from top to toe and celebrate that His Royal Highness is hitting 50 tomorrow Thursday the 27th of April.
If you arrived in the Netherlands after that date of April 2016, you should know that on Koningsdag nothing is bizarre.
(*that includes Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten)
Delft MaMa, represented by a group of kind-hearted volunteers, was one of the 140 institutions present at the largest expat fair in the Netherlands.
This annual event organized by The Hague Online in partnership with ACCES celebrated its 10th edition.
“… have you heard about the most thriving parenting community in the South of Holland? … ” “Delft MaMa is…?” “New in town..?”
and so the day went by at the Feel at Home International Family Fair past Sunday the 5th of February.
From 11 am until 5 pm the City Hall of the Hague, hosted over four thousand people coming from every corner of the world.
Many were the visitors that stopped by to meet and greet a small representation of the people that build our community. Amongst crayons, boxes of raisins, bubble blowing bottles and face painting, our Delft MaMas got engaged with families coming from Canada, Italy, India, China, Japan, England, Hungary and The Netherlands, to name a few.
Complicity smiles and tips about parenting in a third culture environment where joyfully shared.
We hope we will see new faces in the upcoming events real soon!
A big thanks to everyone involved in making this fair a success, before, during and after.
images of the video by Ildikó Wooning and Eva Sabina Amaral, editing by Ildikó Wooning. Pictures Shadi Parsa, Eva Sabina Amaral and Agnès Batllori
You just had a tough morning, got the fussy kids fed and finally to school, got yourself racing against the clock and made it to your job. And then it happens: not your best pal at work, but some random Dutch co-worker wishes you a good morning in the most charming way: “meid, wat zie jij eruit vandaag”. Which roughly translates “you look like sh*t today”.
There you go, Dutch directness. To some extent, directness can be seen as bluntness or even rudeness. But it can also be seen as being honest, sincere, and not hypocrite. So, what makes the Dutch being seen as (too) direct?
It is actually your perspective on the Dutch culture that makes you categorize it as being too direct or rude. It is your “own culture” that reacts to this approach. We’ve all been raised with values and within visible or non-visible cultural boundaries and faux pas. While growing up you suck up like a sponge the way you should or not behave and react, the way to start or continue a conversation. Your surroundings and education is full of unwritten rules and expectancy rooted in your culture and the society around you. So is the Dutch kid growing up, she absorbs the way to communicate, to bring her message across, to deal with situations and social courtesy.
There’s the thing with Dutch culture and the way the Dutch communicate. World wide you can divide the way people communicate to one another as being “confrontational” or being “avoiding confrontation”. Cultures as the Dutch one (but also the US and German one) are communicating the confrontational way. The message must be simple and clear. Cultures as many Asian ones, but also the French one for example, are avoiding confrontation. Their message is full of nuances and there is lots to read between the lines. So when you come from a confrontation-avoiding society, it is not surprising you find the Dutch at least too direct.
But there is more. Another way to divide societies world wide, is the way a society relates to power; in other words, how hierarchic a society is. As you can expect, the Dutch are one of the less hierarchical societies. And because there is less hierarchy, there is also less of a need for imposed politeness and communication layers. This also means less etiquette, more feeling of equality, and there is a more open, two way communication. This all facilitates a more direct approach to all facades of life.
And there you are at this birthday party, and you find yourself chatting with this Dutch guy. And then he throws at you something like pure statements. This is this, and this is that. And then you block. That is not the way to engage in a conversation, not the way you’ve learned it. But that is the whole funny thing, that is exactly the way a Dutch person wants to fire up a conversation. Talking in statements, for many other cultures a conversation stopper, is the Dutch way to start a debate. It’s not a non-disputable statement, and the Dutch really don’t mean that their statement is the truth. It’s not that black and white. It should be an ice breaker, you are invited to exchange ideas. And you should start telling your point of view. The Dutch are taking pride in the freedom of speech and are very open to debating and making an argument.
As I wrote earlier, it’s most of the time your own cultural background that might make you feel offended by Dutch directness. And it is hard work for your cultural antenna to get the right message. It is hard when you are not so well acquainted with Dutch culture to differentiate between Dutch directness and real Dutch rudeness. Let’s be honest, there is a fine line between funny and sarcastic even in your own culture. But look at the up side of Dutch directness. When someone tells you something straight in your face, you just know where you stand. No false politeness, no pretending. And actually, when your co-worker tells you you look like sh*t, take a few moments to digest and have a good look at the face of your colleague. I am pretty sure that most of the time the non-verbal communication will tell you: “been there, I feel you”.
… and how to adopt a new one
Tis the season to be jolly…and for those that celebrate Christmas it is also the season of over-abundance, over-indulgence and rosy-cheeked children whining to the merry tune of ‘it’s not fair, all my friends have got one.’
I love Christmas. I may even go as far as to say it was the main reason why I had children – that and having the perfect excuse to watch Disney films at the ripe old age of thirty-eight. Yet unlike my friends who at this time of year are tasked with the never ending battle of trying to manage their children’s’ expectations, when I asked my seven and five year old girls what they wanted from Santa they answered – “ We don’t know, what is there?”
To understand how I got so lucky you need to know where I live. I live in a bubble, a shiny happy ex-pat bubble of my own making.
Originally from London, I have been living an international lifestyle for eight years. I met my husband in Australia, we had our first child in the UK, our second daughter was born two years later in the south of Spain then just four months ago (following a job offer) our happy little family moved to Delft . We’ve gone from the big smoke to margaritas on the beach to cutesy canals and bicycles – and we love it. We enjoy our nomadic lifestyle, and never more so than at Christmas.
“How are you all adapting?” my overly concerned family and friends ask. “Is it hard settling in to a new country with the children?” To which I answer, “No, contrary to popular belief it’s actually easier to be a parent when you don’t know what’s going on all the time. We’re free to be who we want to be.”
As mothers I’m sure you understand when I talk about expectations. Anxiety, fear of judgement, societal pressures and guilt are never far away. Doing what is expected of you as parents is something that never occurred to me as I picked out newborn clothes and pondered on baby names eight years ago. I didn’t once worry about whether my parenting methods would be questioned, or that I wouldn’t have control over what influenced my children…then they were born and the world of motherhood was cracked open in all its ugly technicolor glory. Without realising it, we parents are bombarded daily with what we should and must and need to do. Each country has a list of unwritten rules when it comes to children and how to raise them. Magazines, websites, mothering groups and family all influence our own parenting methods – until you move abroad. Then you are untouchable. Your rules from back home don’t apply and you are not worried about/able to understand/told about the rules in your new country of residence.
You know what that is called? Freedom. And never more so than at this time of year.
When it comes to Christmas I love living in a country that is not my own, and this year I’m especially excited about experiencing a cold Dutch Christmas for the first time. While others in their own home towns are feeling the festive season pressure of spending, attending and being in twenty million places at once – us expats are happily gawping in wonder around us, without any idea as to what is going on, completely oblivious to anyone’s expectations of us, simply floating about in our magical la la bubble. There are so many reasons why this time of year is especially magical (and easier) for my family.
No expectations, no dissapointment
We have our own family traditions when we go back to the UK, but being new in The Netherlands we are still busy learning about what the locals do; the tiny round cinnamon biscuits, chocolate initials, Sinterklass instead of Santa and learning about when to put shoes out to be filled with presents. My children don’t know ‘the Christmas rules’ and neither do I…they have no expectations, so whatever happens is going to be magical and exciting because it’s all new.
No media influence
We don’t watch Dutch TV, so my girls don’t watch adverts (Netflix all the way). I don’t have magazines lying around the house full of glossy Must-Have Christmas Buys or Argos catalogues landing with a thump through the letterbox. My kids don’t know what is out there, except for the odd glance through the toy shop window, so when they ask for presents they simply ask for more of what they have. When you don’t have an abundance of choice, you don’t have stress.
No peer pressure
Like many ex-pat families, my kids go to an International school. They play with children of many races, from various countries that practice a mix of religions and customs. Every child looks different, sounds different and dresses differently. These kids don’t care about ‘in’ toys or who has more or who’s wearing what. There are no fads, no designer gadget talk or one-upmanship when it comes to what presents they are going to receive this year. Half of them don’t even celebrate Christmas! So my girls are not whipped up into a ‘I want what she has’ frenzy.
Well-meaning relatives don’t get involved
We live far away from the ones we love. Sometimes that’s difficult, but sometimes that’s nice. I am not under any pressure to buy my mum’s neighbour a present because she has bought me bath salts every year since I was ten. I don’t have to attend the carol concerts of my friend’s children or my niece’s nativity play or send ten thousand Christmas cards. I’m out the loop. I have Facebook, I can say ‘hi’ and the rest of the time I can…
…concentrate on my own family
Because that is what Christmas is truly about. Living in our ex-pat bubble forces my children, husband and I to stick together. We may be a little closed off from life around us, a little more selfish and a little bit insular – but it also makes us widen our horizons and pick and choose what is important to us. Our children are protected from Christmas expectations because they are living in a land that is not their own. Because the traditions of ‘back home’ no longer apply to them, instead they are getting the freedom to explore, respect and soak up new experiences.
We are not adhering to the kind of Christmas that advertisers on TV want us to have, that John Lewis ads are selling or what our parents before us are saying we must do.
We are all (even us grown-ups) getting to see Christmas in a new and wondrous light again and appreciating the importance of being part of someone else’s celebrations while still adhering to our own. We are choosing our own traditions and making our own memories, but most importantly we are doing this together as a family.
We’re in our own little Christmas bubble of happiness… you can’t get more magical that that!
As I wrote a couple of months before, cooking/recipe exchange is a method of making friends. While having Taiwanese food is soothing for my homesickness wherever I am abroad, discovering international food is always a fun way to explore different cultures and meeting new friends.
DMM playgroup is such a wonderful place for both kids and moms to begin a new life with meeting many international families from all over the world. I had great fortune to have met an amazing Delft mama who was so kind and generous with open arms to invite us not long after we arrived in Delft in 2014.
Tarja is amazingly dynamic mom with connection and creative ideas. With her Finnish background and living in The Netherlands for nearly ten years, she has accumulated incredible amount of life stories and experiences to share. Despite the fact that she has three kids to take care of, Tarja has been helping other new moms to orient in Delft. I was one of them.
Two years ago, starting from a small ingredient—fresh yeast, that Tarja bought in a local shop, she came up with an idea to invite some mom friends to explore cooking together. She initiated the “international cooking club”. We were 4 moms with all different nationalities to share our own home recipes from the USA, Chile, Finland and Taiwan.
I’ve always been fascinated by different spices and ingredients, cooking styles, tools and so on so forth that you can apply in the kitchen. Learning cooking different cuisine was so much fun for me, as well as spending quality time with those lovely ladies. We have developed a very special bound with one another by sharing our foods, rotating in each mom’s kitchen. Visiting kitchens with international ingredients and tools is part of the cooking adventure!
It was more than just cooking. We always started with morning coffee since the cooking club took place on one weekend morning. Our kids sometimes played together in the garden while moms worked in the kitchen. And after two hours of teaching and cooking, we always put the food on the table to share a simple lunch together. I’m now having a big grin on my face just writing and thinking about it. This was indeed one of the highlights of my Delft mama life!
Our cooking group remained small and private. It became our own friendly gathering. Our recipes brought our taste buds traveling from Finnish cinnamon buns, to Chilean empanadas, to Chinese stews, to American pumpkin pie and chocolate chip cookies and to Spanish omelet and cold vegetable soup, etc.
I have developed great interest in exploring international cuisines since. I found through cooking, my social circle expanded and I saw more nice charismata in each one of the moms that participated.
In Chinese we have a saying goes, “there is no feast that doesn’t end”. It means that we have to say goodbye from time to time to friends and families. Especially with international backgrounds, sometimes families have to move to places wherever the jobs relocate. It’s sad to leave. However, I have saved up so many sweet memories from the feast that I have enjoyed so much within our own little “international cooking club”.
Just two months ago, my family had to leave Delft, our dear lovely home for more than two years. It was not easy for me, especially for our son who has lived the majority of his life in Delft and built his friendship connection, including with Tarja’s kids. We are now only three weeks newly settled in Shenzhen, China. I’m waiting for the new kitchen to be set up according to my needs and I can’t wait to try some of the recipes that I have learned with those dear mom friends from Delft. When there’s a special occasion, we are going to open the peach jam that we made in one of my last cooking lessons.
We couldn’t bring Delft to another country nor transfer our friends to a new city with us, but we have kept memories and friendship. I believe our Delft experiences will last as well as precious friendship. I know we will make new friends where our new home is. But the old friends remain in the depth of our hearts. We don’t just think of them, fortunately we can also have a taste of the good old times of Delft next time when I cook something that I have learned from my Delft mama friends.