Arguably the best time to visit the Netherlands is in the end of April just in time to celebrate King’s Day (formerly known as Queens Day). Not only are the famous Dutch tulip fields in full bloom, but you’re going to be part of the world’s biggest street party. What makes this year particularly special is that for the first time in Dutch history, we will be celebrating King’s Day in honor of King Willem-Alexander.
In order to genuinely appreciate King’s Day, it’s crucial to have an understanding of the significance of this day. The United Kingdom of the Netherlands with a hereditary monarchy was only established a mere 195 years ago on the 16th of March 1815. Members of the House of Orange-Nassau, starting with William of Orange, have been in rule since 1559 as stadhouder (place-keeper). Interestingly, the first country in modern European history to establish a republic would become a hereditary monarchy in hopes of securing domestic stability. There’s something quite endearing about a country renowned for its liberal, progressive ideas and tolerance to hold such an antiquated idea of being loyal servants to a monarchy. The Dutch taxpayers happily contribute approximately € 39,405,000 annually to the Dutch royal family (not including security costs). According to research conducted by Belgium professor Herman Matthijs, the Dutch royal family is the most expensive in Western Europe (more than the media’s all time favorite – the British Royal family) and the taxpayers in the country proportionately pay the heaviest tax burden due to its relatively small population of almost 17 million people. To be completely fair, almost everyone, regardless of income, in Holland receives some form of subsidy anyway so it’s only right that our beloved royal family gets support too.
King’s Day serves as a testament to how tradition and progressive ideas can peacefully co-exist, a national celebration of Dutch cultural identity and heritage in the context of modern life, liberties and entitlements.
Here are my insider tips on how to celebrate Kings Day like a Dutch rock-star:
1. We’re Gonna Party Like It’s Your Birthday.
The national holiday commemorating the Dutch crown is actually an annual birthday celebration. The first official Queen’s day (originally known as Prinsessedag) was celebrated on 31 August 1885, the birthday of then- princess heir apparent Wilhelmina. When her daughter, Queen Juliana took the throne in 1948, the celebrations were moved to the 30th of April to celebrate Queen Juliana’s birthday. Since April generally had more favorable weather conditions compared to January 30th, Juliana’s daughter Queen Beatrix choose to keep the day to celebrate her own special day. Like any awesome birthday party, timing has to be taken into consideration and King Willem-Alexander has graciously allowed the festivities to happen on the 26th of April which falls on a Saturday. For future reference, King’s Day will be celebrated on the 27th of April on the actual birthday of King Willem – 27th of April. MTV’s My Sweet 16 Birthday parties can’t hold a candle to how the Dutch royal family celebrates their birthday every year with their guest list of 16,850, 506 people plus tourists. Contrary to misguided belief, Amsterdam is not the only place where King’s Day is celebrated. The entire country turns into one giant birthday party scene, hence appropriately being called the biggest street party in the world.
2. Bleed Orange.
Orange is the national color of the Netherlands as a special nod to the royal House of Orange-Nassau. Not only is it customary to don on your Orange best, but the latest trend is how creative and crazy you can get. The more ridiculous the outfit, the better. Think of it like Halloween with “orange” as the central theme. Let your imagination guide the way. For costumes, check out Kruidvat, Blokker, Albert Heijn and Action.
3. Head Over to Utrecht on King’s Night To Sell Your Junk and Buy Some Treasures.
Perhaps the most endearing attribute to all this Dutch pomp and circumstance over royalty is the nationwide flea market, the Vrijmarkt. It is the one time in the year where anyone and everyone can freely sell their stuff. And in true Dutch fashion, most of the stuff are at bottom low prices, encouraging camaraderie and brightening up the spirits of the traditionally frugal, stoic Dutch. Utrecht holds the coveted title of being the largest Vrijmarkt in the Low Countries. The Utrecht Vrijmarkt is a 24 hour extravaganza, beginning on Friday evening at 6:00pm (25 April 2014) and ends the following day at 6:00 pm on Saturday (26 April 2014).
4. Party on a boat in the canals of Amsterdam or Utrecht.
An absolute must to check-off your bucket list is to get on a party boat in the canals of Amsterdam. Reservations need to be made in advance (unless you have direct access to a boat yourself), but your careful, meticulous planning will pay off. Amsterdam canals are one of the most enchanting canals in the world and what better way than to celebrate King’s day on a boat with your friends? Come to think of it, wouldn’t it also be a memorable experience to get on a boat in Utrecht which was recently crowned as having the most beautiful canals in all of Europe? Which ever city you choose, Amsterdam or Utrecht, you can’t go wrong. Why choose? Try both.
5. Start drinking beer (or champagne) at 11:00 am.
One of the most surprising and liberating aspects of living in the Netherlands as an American is how socially acceptable it is to start drinking before lunch on this national Dutch holiday. After seven years, I still can’t get over the state-sponsored public inebriation, complete with bars set-up on the streets. All the drinking of course leads to the infamous public urination stalls. Simply watch where you step and enjoy good old fashion drinking with your best buddies and random strangers – all for the gezelligheid of course. And if you have more discerning tastes, bottles of champagne are also sold for your drinking pleasure.
6. Enjoy Dutch delicacies such as herring sandwiches, kibbeling, poffertjes and Dutch fries.
Forget eating at fine dining establishments and head over to the stands offering Dutch delicacies such as herring sandwiches, kibbeling, Dutch fries and bitterballen. Don’t forget to wash the salty treats with some more Dutch beer.
7. Celebrate in mind that it’s a family affair.
King’s Day doesn’t discriminate against age. You’ll find everyone of all ages, from newborns to pensioners, all partying for the King’s birthday. There will be face-painting, performances, games and sport events directed especially for children. There’s something admirable about the Dutch introducing responsible partying starting from the cradle, instilling the important cultural attribute of celebrating life till the grave. Is it a wonder then that the happiest kids in the world happen to reside in the Netherlands?
Wishing everyone a wonderful King’s Day festivities! P.S. If you’d like to waste more time, come connect with me on Facebook for updates about my life in the Netherlands as a mommy and other random stuff that I find interesting. Here’s to Finding Dutchland, wherever you may be.