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The Netherlands (Holland) - Religion, Marriage, Birth and Death

Religion has played a major role in the history of the Netherlands, which was created as an alliance of provinces following the 16th century Calvinist uprising against the Catholic Philip II, King of Spain, who previously ruled the lands which now form the Netherlands.

Since then, the Netherlands has increasingly become a secularized country, and it has been estimated (2002) that 41% of the population are not affiliated with any religion, and that only around a fifth of people in Holland attend religious services regularly. Just under a third of the population (31%) are recorded as being Catholic and about 20% as belong to Protestant denominations, mainly the Dutch Reformed Church and the Calvinists (2002). Catholicism is strongest in the south of the country and Protestantism in the north. Within the Catholic Church in Holland, there are large variations between parishes in the extent to which the teachings and practices of the church have been modernized or remain very traditional.

The Netherlands also now has an estimated 500,000 or more practising Muslims, or around 5.5% of the population (2002). There is a fairly large Jewish community, and significant numbers of people practicing other religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism. A number of non-religious organized groups which follow particular philosophies, such as the Humanists, are also represented in Holland.

A civil wedding ceremony, usually conducted in the town hall, is required in Holland to give a marriage legality, so many couples have both a religious and civil ceremony on the same day. The wedding ceremony is usually followed by a series of celebrations consisting of a reception, a formal dinner and a party, and it is common practice for family and friends to be invited to either all or just part of the celebrations, depending on their closeness to the couple. Wedding anniversaries are not always celebrated, but the 12½th , 25th and 50th anniversaries are considered significant and often marked with a party.

After the birth of a baby, friends and relatives usually make arrangements to visit the new parents and child, and will take a gift such as clothing or a baby toy. Traditional cookies decorated in little blue or pink sweets are usually served to visitors at this time, along with tea and coffee.

On the death of a person in Holland, close family members will often inform other relatives and friends by sending out black-rimmed cards, and may also place an obituary in the newspaper. Unless they specifically request no visitors in advance of the funeral, it is acceptable to visit the family at this time, and also normal practice to send a note of condolence. Funeral ceremonies are usually held in the funeral parlour, not in church, and friends and relatives send flower arrangements to be placed on the coffin, unless the family has requested that donations be made to a charity instead. There is usually a reception after the funeral.

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