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NWO celebrates... Christmas

As many colleagues are already enjoying their Christmas holidays, the NWO celebrates… team takes the time to dwell on Christmas. “It’s the most wonderful time of the year..”, but why? NWO-I colleague Tara Mahendrarajah took the time to tell us what Christmas means to her and how she celebrates it. Merry Christmas on behalf of the NWO celebrates… team!

Tara Mahendrarajah, PhD at NWO Institute NIOZ

How do you celebrate Christmas?
I have always celebrated a “traditional” Christmas, usually with my family. However, the past 6 years I have lived in places far away from my family’s home and therefore have spent Christmas with my partner, Scott. We have not been able to travel back home due to covid-related restrictions and other obligations, and as a result have spent three Christmases here in the Netherlands. Our Christmas typically involves spending time together on Christmas eve and Christmas Day, making a big meal for ourselves and our friends, opening presents, and catching up with our loved ones.

Does Christmas have a special meaning for you?
Despite my parents having Christian influence, my family was always pretty secular and rarely incorporated religious meaning with the holiday. Periodically through my childhood we would attend midnight mass on Christmas Eve, but again, that wasn’t always emphasized. Christmas is special to me because it’s a time in the year that I was able to spend with my parents and other family members. Growing up my parents worked a lot and we didn’t have extended periods of time to spend with them without having other obligations. We also have larger family parties where we got together and made traditional Sri Lankan foods. On Christmas morning we eat a very traditional Sri Lankan meal that consists of "kiribath" which translates to "milk rice." It is made with rice that is cooked in coconut milk. And that is served with very traditional Sri Lankan beef curry, sometimes also a potato curry. We also add a very spicy sambol made of chopped onions, green chilies, chili powder, dried fish flakes (Maldives fish), and lime. This meal is always a must for our family on Christmas morning.

Can you tell us about your work at NIOZ?
My research explores the deep evolutionary histories of primary domains of life, the Archaea and Bacteria. I use computational tools to analyse the genomes of modern microorganisms and use that knowledge to infer the characteristics of the earliest branching representatives in the Tree of Life.

Stories of NWO-D colleagues

You can read the Christmas stories of colleagues Jeroen Lindeboom, Ammeret Rossouw, Nanouschka Wamelink and Ivo Ridder on NWO-intranet Joost (in Dutch only). 


Diversity and inclusion at NWO and NWO-I

This new section will be published on both the NWO intranet Joost and the newsletter Inside NWO-I. This is an initiative from the NWO-D and NWO-I wide Diversity team. We aim to realise working in an inclusive organisation with inclusive procedures. We believe that we can achieve our strategic ambitions as NWO if we also seek to be a diverse organisation with an inclusive culture. Diversity brings us creativity, innovation, and renewal. In addition to this, we are convinced that we will have more societal impact as NWO if our organisation reflects the society we are part of. This means that as an employer, NWO needs to ensure that everybody is welcome, can be themselves and can perform at their best. This Diversity and Inclusion calendar contributes to that. You can read more about diversity and inclusion on the NWO website. And in the January edition of Inside NWO-I, we published the article “Striving for an organisation where everybody can be themselves” about diversity within NWO and NWO-I.

Section NWO celebrates … based on an annual calendar

We base the section “NWO celebrates…” on an annual calendar that we have produced ourselves. You can find our calendar here. An annual calendar does not necessarily have to start on 1 January. Various Roman emperors and several popes changed the dates making a year start on 1 March, or 25 March or perhaps 1 January? That set us thinking: which dates do we still take for granted, and how do others view that? Time for a calendar that includes all special days: days that we as NWO employees can celebrate together. We hope this calendar will help us to get to know each other better, increase our knowledge about other festive days, and give us opportunities to open up the conversation and discover which (festive) days are special for us and why.

See the calendar 'NWO celebrates' and read the other articles from the section 'NWO celebrates...'

Would you like to participate in this section?

Is your (festive) day missing from the calendar? Or would you like to say something in the section “NWO celebrates…” about one of the special days on this calendar? If that is the case, then please send an email to Nicole Verhoeven ( Then we will add your date to the calendar and contact you for a possible interview for this section.

Confidental Infomation