Monday, 25 April 2016

Everything You Need to Know About King's Day in the Netherlands (And Some Stuff You Probably Don't Need to Know)

This week sees the Dutch putting on their party clothes and heading out en masse on to the streets.  If this is your first King's Day, then you are in for a treat. For the more seasoned expats I'm guessing nothing surprises you on King's Day anymore.

The Why

King's Day is a national celebration of the Dutch King's birthday. Think of it as a birthday party which Willem-Alexander invites the whole country to.

The What

"Oh oh, did you say Dutch birthday party?" I hear you ask. I did, but don't panic, there are no chairs or circles involved in the King's party. Well, at least not that the general public gets to see. There is a possibility that once Willem-Alexander has finished his public duties he returns to the palace, places his throne strategically in a circle of posh chairs and awaits the servings of soggy crackers and coffee. But no fear, you have no role to play in this merriment.

Instead you get to dress up and attend the biggest annual street party you'll see in the Netherlands.  

The When

King's Day is currently celebrated on the 27th of April.

Those of you who have been living in the Netherlands for more than a couple of years will know that Queen's Day was celebrated on the 30th of April when Beatrix was the reigning monarch. Beatrix's birthday is actually in January but as the weather is pretty crap at that time of year she decided to keep the celebration as it was when her mother was queen on the 30th. Queen's Day had been celebrated on the last day of April since 1948.

When Willem-Alexander came to the throne there was speculation about whether he would keep King's Day on the 30th or move it three days forward to honour his own birth date. I tell ya, the tension and excitement was high...... he chose the 27th. To add to the confusion the first year he was king his birthday fell on a Sunday so we actually celebrated it on the 26th. Pandemonium.

It took us all a while but we are now used to the switch from Queen's Day to King's Day and the fact that it is on the 27th. Though I am still a little aggrieved that the King steals a little of my son's thunder as his birthday is on the 28th and everyone is busy with King's Day leading up to his big day. I'm learning to forgive, little by little, as each year goes by.

The Where

The party is just about everywhere, at least anywhere that is centre of town like. Each year the royal family chooses a place (or two) to visit (a tradition started by Beatrix when she came to the throne in 1980) and the locals go kind of crazy and have a right good knees up - with the royals at the centre of it all (toilet pot throwing being the thing that sticks out in my mind in Willem-Alexander's pre-king days). This year the royals will be visiting Zwolle.

Many places have music festivals (such as the Radio 538 party in Breda, dance festivals or fairs and markets. In general, the bigger the town, the bigger the party.

There is usually beer involved. A lot of beer involved. You will meet lots of drunk Dutch people. Note that drunk Dutch people can be even more direct than sober Dutch people. Don't take it personally. 

Every year there are also parties the night before King's Day (Koningsnacht) in towns such as Den Haag and Utrecht. 

The How

The how is multi-faceted but usually involves things you're not normally allowed to do. Let's split this up.

By Flying The Flag

If you have a flag pole atatched to your residence, and you are in posession of a Dutch flag, then go ahead and proudly fly it. You may also attach your orange wimpel. It's one of the rare days of the year when you may raise the national flag so grab the opportunity whilst you can.

By Selling Your Crap on the Street
The Netherlands becomes one giant flea market on King's Day. The Dutch hoard all their unwanted crap  treasures for months waiting for the chance to dump lovingly arrange it all on a blanket on the floor in a 'free market' on King's Day. This is the only day of the year that the public may sell their goods on the street without any kind of licence. It's an opportunity that is embraced. 

By Showcasing Your Child's Talents
If your child plays the recorder, violin, guitar or trumpet, or can tap dance or warble a tune that isn't wholly offensive to passing ears (and this criteria is not always valid) then King's Day is the day to show the world what they can do - and even make a few cents in the process. Children can be positioned between blankets of crap treasures and play their tunes or dance their jigs to their hearts' content, whilst asking passers-by to deposit coins into a hat/instrument case/box/receptacle on the ground in front of the children.

By Selling Your Baked Wares
If your talents lie more in the baking department than in the music department you can also make biscuits or cakes or something indescribable for partygoers to buy and munch on. The risk takers amongst the general public are particularly excited by this manner of partaking in King's Day and are more than happy to part with 25 cents for a squashed cookie. 

By Dressing in Orange

Wherever you go, whatever you do on King's Day make sure you do it dressed in orange. It's the law and it's called oranjegekte. As the Dutch football team won't be participating in Euro 2016 over the summer I am expecting an extra element of orange craziness on King's Day - otherwise the orange stuff won't get an airing this year at all........

By Drinking Copious Amounts of Beer
This, I believe, needs no further explanation.

By Eating Orange Food
It's traditional to eat orange tompouce on King's Day. Or bossche bollen with orange stuff on it, or an edible flag. In fact, lots of food is available in orange and you should generally just eat it.

And Lastly

The point of King's Day is to have a good time. It's a party. It's a day to forget your worries, laugh a little, do things you don't normally do, buy someone else's unwanted crap only to realise when you get home you don't actually want it either, suffer a few stomach cramps on the 28th because you ate hot food from a street 'vendor' that maybe wasn't the wisest choice, and wear clothes you wouldn't normally be seen dead in.

It's brilliant fun! 

Have a great King's Day!

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