New Year’s always seems one of the more dutchy holidays to me, because while at Christmas Dutch traditions look a lot like everyone else’s (stockings, Sinter Klaus, special pastries and desserts), at New Year’s our family did stuff no one else did. Dutch stuff.
First there is Ollie Bollen. Traditionally served New Year’s Eve or for breakfast New Year’s Day, these doughnuts are nothing pretty to look at and their name means “Fat Balls”! But their beauty lies in the crispy, funky protrusions formed by spooning a wet, yeasty dough into hot oil, and the plumped raisins studding the mildly sweet dough. The resulting golden-brown creation always reminds me of a manatee. Growing up, we at them as fast as my dad could lift them out of the hot grease and mom could dust them sufficiently with powdered sugar, and it never seemed as if they made quite enough. Making them for my own little family, we actually have leftovers which we enjoy for breakfast the next day.
After Ollie Bollen comes another Dutch Tradition. The Peppermint Game. A small stool is chosen — low in height and not over-generous in surface size. It’s key that it hold a man’s weight without tipping. It is set in the center of the room and a single, Dutch peppermint is balanced tantalizingly on the edge of the stool. Anyone is invited to help themselves to the treat, with just a few rules. You must 1)retrieve the mint with your mouth while 2)standing on the stool.
You can imagine the entertainment value of the game when friends and family, young and old, flexible and not-so-very, driven by competitiveness or the simple lust for a good peppermint, climb atop the stool. The most common technique is balancing the tips of one’s toes on the edge of the stool opposite the mint, gripping the stool firmly on the sides, and squatting — slowly, to maintain balance — until one’s lips can coax the mint inside. But those without the ability to do a severe squat must often resort to extreme measures, involving precarious hand stands atop the stool and, sometimes, loud sucking noises. Drooling often sets in when one had been at it a while with no success. It’s all quite hilarious to observe.
I introduced my kids to the game this year for the first time. Sadly, I didn’t think ahead enough to pick up some mints so we had to use peanut M and M’s. But I had just the right stool and it was hilarious to watch them — first their faces while Mommy demonstrated, then their own juvenile attempts to follow the rules to get their treat. Jesse was a pro — smoothly bending to deftly pluck up the treat — proof of good, strong dutch genes, I said. Claire didn’t quite get it, unwilling to commit to the risk to lower her head below her spine while perched in the air. She ingeniously used one hand to cup the candy a few inches off the stool, then licked it out of her hand, all while giggling. She bounced up like a gymnast her face shining with triumph. Finally it was Daddy’s turn. The kids shrieked with delight while Mommy tried to get photos — Jeremy being one of those who has to use extreme techniques to reach the treat.
After this, the family may play a home version of Scategories – we called it “Boy’s Name, Girl’s Name” growing up. It was a list of ten general categories and all that was needed was paper and pen for each person and a dictionary, and a timer. One person opened the dictionary and, with eyes closed, dropped a pencil to the page. Whatever the tip landed on was our letter. We’d set a timer for 3 min. and then race to fill in all the categories with as unique choices as possible, for you only got a point for your word if no one else had thought of the same one. Again, a simple game, but with the dutch (or was it just my family’s?) competitiveness, it was a rousing good time.
The dutch, despite their reserved attitude and reluctance to show emotion, have a wonderfully dry sense of humor. My sisters and I used to laugh so hard at my Pake’s jokes when he would come visit.
Q: What do the Dutch do when it rains?
A: They let it come down.
Q: What’s white and has two legs?
A: A chicken
Q: What’s white and has one leg?
A: A glass of eggnog
Trust me, it’s hilarious if you’re Dutch.
I’ve never actually celebrated the New Year with my grandparents as they live across the country, but each New Year’s I feel especially close as to them as our celebrations echo my heritage.
Happy New Year to you and yours! I’m curious…how do you celebrate?