A jubilation of orange, flowers, flags, beer and flea markets. In short, this is Koningsdag, the King’s Day in the Netherlands.
What takes place on April 27 is a year-round event awaited by the Dutch and also by tourists, who take the opportunity to discover Holland on one of its most fun and colorful days, perhaps even discovering Keukenhof, the world’s best-known park.
These are the days when the Netherlands boasts a boom in tourists (Amsterdam alone welcomes about 2 million visitors).
The history of the King’s Day in Holland
Let’s start from the beginning to understand the meaning of this day. How was it born?
On August 31, 1885, to promote national unity, on the fifth birthday of Princess Wilhelmina (a great strong, independent woman with a great nose for business: hers is the holding that owns the largest share of Shell, and thanks to her earnings she, her daughter and granddaughter were for years the richest women in the world) the first Princess Day was held, a holiday that was then repeated every year.
Upon the death of King Wilhelm III, resulting in Wilhelmina’s ascension to the throne, Princess Day was transformed into the Queen’s Day, Koninginnedag, which continued to be celebrated on August 31 each year.
In 1948 the throne passed on to Wilhelmina’s daughter Juliana, and since then Queen’s Day has been celebrated on April 30, Juliana’s birthday.
On April 30, 1980, Juliana’s daughter Beatrice became Queen, and from that day on it was decided to keep the holiday on April 30, both for convenience and to commemorate the former Queen.
In 2013 Beatrice abdicated in favor of her son William Alexander. Since then the feast has been held on April 27 (or the 26th if the 27th is a Sunday. Tradition dictates that the holiday is never to be celebrated on a Sunday) and has become Koningsdag, the King’s Day.
“Koningsdag” celebrations in the Netherlands
What exactly happens on King’s Day in Holland?
In the days of Queen Juliana, thousands of Dutch people would parade past Soestdijk Palace, throwing flowers all along the sidewalk in front of the palace.
When Beatrix came to the throne, things changed: the new queen decided she wanted to be the one to visit the people, so every year she would travel to one or two towns of a chosen province along with numerous members of her family, where they would be greeted with festivities in their honor, singing, dancing, and demonstrations of ancient crafts. His son liked this so much that when he ascended to the throne he decided to continue this tradition as well.
On this special day, as on other Royal family related celebrations, the Dutch use to toast the health of their monarchs with a glass of Oranjebitter, an orange-colored liqueur created in 1620 in honor of Frederick Henry of Orange, winner of many battles and son of William the Taciturn.
Oranjebitter is made from Beerenburger, a spiced liqueur (with juniper berries, bay leaves, and licorice) to which orange peel and malt brandy are added. It is very bitter, so many prefer to add sugar (except on King’s Day, when it should be drunk neat).
But there also are other things that make the Dutch people happy on King’s Day: there is no parking charge, it is allowed to consume alcohol on the street, and you don’t need a permit to sell goods on public soil, which is why cities are filled with flea markets.
Are you familiar with our carnival floats? They are also used in Holland during King’s Day, but… on boats! That’s right, boats dressed up, colored and harnessed as if they were Carnival floats that pass along the city’s canals. A parade that is one of the festival’s highlights.
In some cities (especially in The Hague) Koningsnacht, the “Night of the Kings,” is also celebrated, the very night before the King’s Day.
A typical event of these days in Holland is the Oranjegekte (=orange madness), meaning the whole country is colored orange: flags, banners, clothing, even food and drink or the water in the fountains.
King’s Day in Holland is not just any national holiday, but for the Dutch it represents the core of their spirit. It is definitely worth experiencing it, at least once in a lifetime!