The Dutch Birthday Party

The Dutch Birthday Party

This past weekend we celebrated my mother-in-law’s 60th birthday.  So in honor of her birthday, I would like to tell you about this very special annual phenomenon that one must endure to be a part of this culture. 

Before I stun and amaze you yet again with another snippet of life here in the Netherlands, let me do a quick comparison from what I remember when living in the US.    I don’t know about you, but when I was in the states our parties usually went something like this:   First of all, you start with a BBQ grill.  Yes, even in winter.  Then add enough food to feed the population of Guam, several kegs of beer, a kiddy pool filled with grain alcohol punch and all your friends and relatives. It starts out rather calmly with the big pig out and then continuing to lawn games.  From there things digress and inevitably lead to at least one person diving in the kiddy pool  and  usually then ends up being broken up at 3:00am by 3 police cars and at least one disturbing the peace charge.  Sound familiar to any of you?  Hmmm, maybe it’s just my parties then.

Now, let’s compare to here. No matter how old you are, you have to suffer through the Dutch Birthday party. When you have a birthday, you invite all your relatives into your tiny house (remember Dutch houses are tiny).  First of all your guests will always arrive on time so there is always a line at the door. When a guest arrives, he/she will hand you a bouquet of flowers and/or a gift. The gift you immediately rip open (even before coffee is served – even before they get their coats off). Then you run into the kitchen to put the flowers in water and set them along with the other 10 bouquets that you’ve just received.  

The guests will then feel free to re-arrange your furniture. They will not sit in the chairs as they are placed. They MUST be in a circle. No matter how small the house or how many guests, the chairs are arranged in a circle. We had 50 people for Marko’s party. I had people sitting on the floor just so they can be in that circle! The next step is the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen.  Every person will make their way around the circle and greet each guest. This is either a hand shake or a 3 time kiss on each cheek and then they congratulate each other on the guest-of-honor’s birthday.  It goes something like this: “Congratulations on your mother-in-law’s birthday!”  Huh?  Why are you congratulating ME?  It’s not MY birthday!  When I asked why this is done, no one could tell me.  

Then the guests get into the coffee ritual that I described a few posts back but instead of cookies, you get one piece of tart. For the remainder of the party the birthday-boy/girl will then run themselves ragged trying to keep everyone’s cup filled with coffee and tea.  No one will actually ask for a re-fill. No one will get up and get it themselves, even if the coffee pot is 2 inches from them.  They will give you a longing look, and then to the inside of their empty cup and then a hopeful glance back up at you. “Would you like another cup of coffee, Uncle Jan?”, “Why yes, please.”  If you want to see Uncle Jan have a heart attack, then tell him to help himself.  For amusement, they will then sit and have very polite conversation usually revolving around current events or politics and accompanied by long pauses of uncomfortable silence until the next topic is thrown out.  This goes on until the designated end of the party or when dinner is served at precisely 6:00pm.  No one finds it funny that half the people leave to cook their own dinner at home.  Those who stay, usually gobble down dinner and make a hasty exit.  By that time the kids are bored stupid anyway, the old people are complaining about the service and the birthday girl/boy is exhausted.  Gezellig! 

Today’s recipe is another thing that I can’t buy here, english muffins.   While the taste is spot on, you will not get the ‘nooks and crannies’ that you may be used to in store-bought ones.  But these are thicker, softer and great for making egg sandwiches. 

Homemade English Muffins (makes about 18)

1 cup milk

2 tablespoons white sugar

1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast

1 cup warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)

1/4 cup melted shortening

5 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt


  1. Warm the milk in a small saucepan until it bubbles, then remove from heat. Mix in the sugar, stirring until dissolved. Let cool until lukewarm. In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the milk, yeast mixture, shortening and 3 cups flour. Beat until smooth. Add salt and rest of flour, or enough to make a soft dough. Knead until smooth, about 5 minutes. Place in greased bowl, cover, and let rise.
  3. Punch down. Roll out to about 1/2 inch thick. Cut rounds with biscuit cutter or empty 2 ½ to 3 inch can. Sprinkle a cookie sheet with cornmeal and set the rounds on this to rise. Also dust tops of muffins with cornmeal. Cover and let rise 1/2 hour.
  4. Heat greased griddle on low-med heat. Cook muffins on griddle about 10 minutes on each side.  Cook until the tops and bottoms are light brown and the sides are still soft.  If they are cooking too fast, lower the heat.  Try one or two out as practice. Allow to cool and place in plastic bags for storage. To use, split and toast.   They freeze really well.  Makes about 18.

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