Ahhh Christmas dinner! That time of year when families come together and celebrate this festive holiday over a large table of food. Typically, families have their own special traditions, but this year, we are totally throwing tradition out the window. Why? Because we’re celebrating our Christmas dinner at Winter Parade.
Where are we?
One Christmas holiday tradition we’re completely embracing is that we’re traveling to some foreign country, and…we’re meeting Grandma Linda there! This year we decided to meet in Amsterdam. Why Amsterdam? We can thank Anya for that. She wanted someplace cold, and well, Amsterdam does get very cold, so we checked that box.
Heidi and I have been to Amsterdam a number of times, and the kids have been once before, but since it’s such an amazing city, it was a pleasure to see it again. Especially since the kids are older.
Where are we going for Christmas Dinner?
As usual, Heidi did a lot of research and found this Dutch event called Winter Parade. When she described it to me, initially, I wasn’t overly thrilled, but after we talked about it, she convinced me that it would be fun, and memorable. It was a Dutch thing to do and we would be with the locals, rather than tourists. OK. I’m up for that!
So Winter Parade’s where we would be spending 5 hours of our Christmas evening. No typical dining in a restaurant. Nothing so staid and ordinary as that. This year was going to be a very different experience.
What is Winter Parade?
It’s hard to describe, but let me give it a shot. Imagine inviting 500 of your closest foreign strangers to a 3-course meal, where everyone sits at huge tables, and the wait staff serves you by walking on the tables. And while that’s going on, there are various sorts of entertainment happening on the tables. Just wait. You’ll see!
And on top of that, you get to be involved in other activities both on the table, and in a different parts of the building (which happens to be an old church). Think of a meal set in a medieval environment with entertainment and audience participation. It’s definitely a crazy experience.
How did things start?
After a taxi ride to the church, we found a long line of people waiting to get in. It was chilly, but there was a group of performers singing Christmas songs out front. And while they’re singing, there is mulled wine being handed out to those waiting in line.
After some time we were in, and the church was much larger than I thought. It was also two floors, and when saw how those huge tables were arranged, I understood how they could accommodate 500 people.
After hanging up our coats, we decided to head up stairs and find our seats. It’s not assigned seating, but it was very easy for us to find 5 vacant spots. Now I’ve made mention about the large tables, so let me describe them. In the church there are 4 or 5 sections. In our section, the tables were arranged in an L-shape. And the long part of the “L” was about Winter-Parade-Amsterdam-Waiting-in-Line, with the short part roughly 30 feet. And when I sit down, the person across from me is roughly 6 feet away. Crazy, huh?
Once we sat down, some bread/crackers were served, as well as soup and some drinks. The novelty of people walking around on the table didn’t get old. While there are servers bringing food and drinks to us, there are also entertainers walking around talking to the patrons.
What types of entertainment are there?
I’m reluctant to get into specifics, but it was such an interesting experience I’ll have to spill the beans. I have to start out and say that most of the entertainment is in Dutch, and while English is spoken a bit, in the end it doesn’t matter. There are times I didn’t know exactly what was going on, but this type of performance art, the spoken word isn’t always necessary.
An Epic Film
OK, so for our first activity, our section was going to film a short video, and the entire section is involved. There was a local actress who was playing a young girl, and they picked a young girl from our section to play an old grandmother. The main part of the filming was going to take place at the far end of the table, so we couldn’t see all the prep work. We did see them setup equipment, and a camera facing down.
The rest of the table were given props. There were houses & clouds (about the size of a sheet of paper), and the rest of the people were told to hold their phones facing up. The “director” explained that once he yelled “Action!”, we were to start walking toward the camera holding our prop above the table. Anya and I were clouds, so we just watched what other people were doing. Once the filming started, it was kind of strange but once we got down near the end of the table, I understood how they were filming.
The actresses were laying on the table, and they were looking up towards the camera/ceiling, while the rest of us were bringing the house and cloud props on either side of them. I had no idea what the end product would look like, but everyone was having fun.
A Christmas carol
After we did the film thing, we sat back down and relaxed a bit. During this time, I was looking at other sections in the church, and there were interesting things going on, but it wasn’t long before our entire section was told to congregate in a room downstairs. So we made our way down and there was a table with some large inverted bells, and a guy with an accordion.
The guy who was the Director for the film came in with a mix of Dutch and English he explained how the bells can be played, and he started picking volunteers. The first volunteer was to play one bell. Guess who got picked next? Grandma Linda! She was tasked with playing three bells!
Sidenote: I’m not trying to pick on Grandma Linda, but it was very funny. As I mentioned, the bells sat on the table, and were fairly large. There were a couple of ways to play the bell. With the mallet, the edge could be struck for a nice strong note.
Or, the mallet can be put inside the bell and it could strike opposite sides of the bell for a more rapid dings. Think of a big mixing bowl, and going back and forth, hitting 12 and 6 o’clock. Now this is where Mom went into her typical “Cook Mode“, and she started stirring. The Director told her that this wasn’t a cooking class, and she corrected her form.
For the rest of us, the Director broke us up into groups. With one group he would give them a note to sing. He would then to the Conductor thing, and raise and lower his hands to raise and lower the volume. And he used the flourish of his hand to stop the singers.
There were 4 groups within the room, and we were all doing a reasonable job of staying in tune. When he wanted a particular group to sing, he would point, and that group would sing a note. And at the end of all the instruction, it was time for our performance.
Put all of our notes together, and between the bells and the accordion, and we did a rendition of a Christmas song, and it turned out pretty good. How did Grandma Linda do? She rocked the house, of course! She’s going to be on tour for 2018!
With our Christmas carol completed, we made our way back to our seats.
Once we made it back to our seats, we were still snacking on the appetizers, but wait staff were coming by and moving all of the plates out of the center of the table. They were making room for something! We were also handed wireless headphones to put on. I’m intrigued! Once everyone had their headphones on, two guys walked out on the table. One at the far end, and one close to us.
It’s hard to describe the dance, but it was like a dance fight. While they were dancing/fighting, they were covering the entire table. My hat is off to them for the strength and agility they showed. Dancing up and down the table with people on each side of them, mere feet away would be too stressful for me.
There were no words or singing, but music was playing on the headphones while we watched. Very cool performance! By the way, the headphones were synced with each particular show. So while we had the blue channel with this show, a group downstairs was on the red channel.
Once again, we were given some wireless headphones for the next performance. The next group of performers were young adults, and the song/dance performance is, again, hard to describe, but it was hilarious. These performers were rich young kids complaining about their problems, and in a combination of Dutch and English, they danced, and sang, explaining their horrible situation.
Oh, and they’re dressed in these “high fashion” plastic outfits, bubble wrap and all. It was ridiculous, but very funny.
What did you eat?
I don’t remember exactly all of the food we had, but throughout the experience there was a nice soup (I had seconds!), the main meal consisted of duck and vegetables (I had seconds on the veggies!), and lastly there was a dessert that I really liked.
The way it worked out was Lars wound up with 4 portions of duck (Anya, Heidi and I gave him ours. Heidi ended up asking for the vegetarian quiche, which she loved). I ate Anya’s and Lars’ dessert, and I think the three adults polished off a bottle of wine. OK, I’ll admit that the veggies were potatoes.
The funny thing is the food serving cart was on the table, and the servers were walking along serving people like there was nothing strange about the situation. If you wanted more food, they just reached down for your plate and scooped some more for you.
How did the night end?
At the very end of the evening, all of the dishes and glasses were picked up, and the lights were dimmed, and the Director came out and talked to all of the sections. We couldn’t see him directly, but we were able to watch him on one of the many screens. He thanked the wait staff and the performers, and then it was Movie Time!
It turns out that each section filmed their own mini-movie, and we got to watch them all put together in a grand movie. A lot of it was in Dutch, but they were all avant garde, and entertaining. The people who did the filming and editing did an amazing job in the final production. They did a stellar job!
They then put on some music, and everyone was invited to start dancing. On the table! Oh yeah! So I got up and started “dancing” (notice the air quotes as I’m really stretching the definition of dancing). Anya was entirely embarrassed (awesome!), and Lars was strutting his stuff, and Heidi and Grandma Linda were boogeying down on the floor. Oh, and Anya was just mortified (I love being a parent!).
This was definitely a Christmas experience! I really enjoyed it, and not really knowing what was going to take place, it surpassed my expectations. I wasn’t a big fan of the main course, but I did have seconds on the soup, veggies, and desserts. I didn’t understand everything that was going on, but that was OK. Just going with the flow and enjoying the moment with my family was enough to make this a very memorable experience.
If you plan on going to Amsterdam for Christmas, I would highly recommend the curious and crazy experience that is WinterParade!
We will have more on our full Christmas week in Amsterdam on the blog soon!
So time to answer the question: “Would You Do This For Your Christmas Dinner?” Let us know.