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First Christmas Preparation in Nederland

Last year was our first Christmas in Nederland. As such, it was important to me to try to instill some normalcy in what had essentially been an unremitting onslaught of change in the six months since we’d arrived.

And the six months prior to our arrival as well. We’d almost become ‘changed-0ut’.

Now we can quibble as to why it was up to me, do I think that this is ‘women’s work’ (of course not), does anybody help me (of course, after much prodding), do they appreciate this (again, yes) and so on.

The bottom line is this. I understood the importance of rituals and memories and celebrating holidays ‘the way we always have,’ and so I needed to step up and help orchestrate the annual recreation of our Christmases past.

That, and the fact that I was the only one who knew where all of the Christmas decorations were stored.

When we moved to the East Coast sunny state seven years ago, we were fortunate to have extremely high ceilings in our home. The first couple of years we went in search of the traditional live Christmas tree. They were beautiful and smelled heavenly, but they tended to look rather miniscule when going up against those tall ceilings.

So several years ago we made the transistion from a live tree redolent in its heady pine scent to a (gasp!) towering artificial tree. Not just any old artificial tree, mind you. A well-crafted, ten-foot tall beauty that came with its own white lights, and that when fully decorated was both absolutely gorgeous and undetectable as anything less than real.

(So long as you stayed three feet or more away, which tended to be just about everyone except immediate family on Christmas morning.)

It was nearly two years ago when we were packing up to move here. We were seriously trying to downsize, and worked hard to cull out old, unused and unnecessary furniture, clothing and other items.

Husband had a flash of brilliance and orchestrated a garage sale, with the remaining unsold items to be donated to charity. He enlisted Son and Daughter to help, and they did a marvelous job.

Transactions were made, cash was earned, stuff went out. Good time generally had by all.

Flash forward to last December when we pulled out our tree, decorations and lights. No stand. It seems that the garage sale had been so marvelous that Husband had managed to sell the Christmas tree stand.

Thinking I was dealing with a minor setback, I started combing shops and stores for a Christmas tree stand. Each day as I ran my errands, I’d check out another place or two, always striking out.

Seems the Dutch either use live trees that come with the infinitely sensible wooden stand nailed to the bottom, or they have artificial trees that come with their own stand.

Daily I was rebuffed in my search for a stand until finally I was redirected to the large house & garden shops; they often carry home decorations, and during the holidays are decked out in Christmas finery. Since they carry all kinds of wonderful Christmas ornaments and decorations, surely I could find a tree stand.

I made a trip to one of these large house & garden stores, and was shown the one and only type of tree stand they carried. I purchased it along with some inexpensive yet lovely decorations, and headed home.

We put on some Christmas CDs, and while listening to festive music, Husband and Son put the tree into the stand, and we were set. I put the various gold chains of stars and beads on the tree, and went off to do other chores while Husband began putting on the decorations.

Shortly thereafter Husband sheepishly called out that we would probably be needing some tree lights. Puzzled, I arrived in the living room to a dark tree and a faint burning smell.

Husband had plugged the (US) lights into what he thought was a voltage converter (from the European 220 volts to the US 110 volts), but which was actually only a plug adapter. He reported that after about 5 minutes he’d heard a ‘popping sound’ and started to smell smoke just as the lights went out…

The next day I revisited the house & garden store for European 220 voltage Christmas lights. While there I would also seek out some wreath hangers. You know, the simple, over-the-door style.

We’d brought some wreaths with us but in the US had hung them by carefully concealed small nails. Since we were renting our house in Den Haag, nails weren’t an option.

I was told by the assistant manager that they had stocked some wreath hangers but they were all sold out. I asked when they would be getting a new shipment, and was met with a quizzical stare.

I was quickly learning some interesting lessons in Dutch retail sales and consumerism. First, as with the tree stand and the wreath hangers, the Dutch often tend to stock only one kind of each item. Not three or five or eight choices, just one. It’s that or nothing.

Second, when they are out of stock, that’s it. No ordering more of popular (i.e., wanted) items. You’ll have to wait until next year.

What had happened to supply and demand or economies of scale?? It was a literal, conscious reminder that we no longer lived in the US where, by virtue of market size (320 million versus 17 million in the Netherlands), cutthroat competition and just-in-time logistics, the consumer has the benefit of choice.

The manager helpfully suggested that I check back next year in November when they put out their holiday merchandise. I smiled, (silently) praised his grasp of the obvious, paid for my lights and went home.

That night we finally had working lights on our Christmas tree standing in its new tree stand. Maybe we couldn’t hang our wreaths, but that was alright. I had persevered, rolled with the punches, figured things out.

Best of all, we had our lovely Christmas tree and other decorations to help celebrate the holidays in our new home.

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