Special Dutch Days – King’s Day, Dodenherdenking and Bevrijdingsdag

At the end of April and the beginning of May three typical Dutch events take place every year. I noticed that these events often raise questions to internationals living in the Netherlands. If properly explained, internationals can more easily relate to the Dutch behavior during these days. Understanding the customs and rituals also helps to emotionally connect with the Dutch during these days and take part in the celebrations. I therefore will try to bring some clarity on the meaning of these events to the Dutch and  explain some of the customs, habits and rituals that can be seen during these events.

King’s Day (Koningsdag)

On the 27th of April the Dutch in The Netherlands and on the six Dutch Caribbean Islands (Aruba, Curaçao, St Maarten, Bonaire, St Eustatius, Saba) celebrate the birthday of our King, his Majesty King Willem Alexander.

King’s Day is one of the yearly highlights of the Dutch, something we look forward to. Most Dutch towns have a so called ‘Oranje Vereniging’, a group of volunteers that organizes local festivities on King’s Day. During King’s Day many people dress up in orange, especially children. It is a symbol of the Dutch identity. The Royal Family’s name is Van Oranje. Oranje is Dutch for the color orange.

Many people will hang out the National flag (red-white-blue) with an orange pennon (in Dutch wimpel) along with it. Every year the Royal Family visits one or two Dutch places which is live broadcasted on national TV. Quite some Dutch watch this on TV, giving comments about what kind of dresses our Queen Máxima Zorreguieta, their three daughters Amalia (our crown princess), Alexia and Ariane and the other Princesses wear.

On King’s Day many Dutch will eat a so called Oranje Tompouce, an orange color variation of the famous HEMA pastry (normally it is pink).

The Dutch are known for centuries for being a nation of trade (sailing the oceans in the 17th century, the so called Dutch Golden Age). On King’s day those trade-genes can fully sparkle as this is the only day of the year anyone can sell new and second hand stuff on the streets without needing a permit to do so, and without paying taxes. This is the so called Vrijmarkt (free market), which you can see in many places all over the country.

Drinking a Heineken beer, sitting at a terrace in the sun, after he just bought a gadget at a great bargain on the vrijmarkt couldn’t make an average Dutchman happier. King’s Day in Amsterdam is an experience. Thousands of people travel to the capital to enjoy music concerts, vrijmarkten and celebrate. If you have the chance, it is highly recommended doing this at least once.

kings day almere

Dodenherdenking (remembrance of the dead)

On the 4th of May the Dutch honor the Dutch civilians and soldiers that sacrificed their lives for freedom. It originally was organized to remember the people that died during the second world war, but since the sixties it is also meant to honor the people that died during other wars or peacekeeping missions.
On various places throughout the country people will gather around 7.30 pm, just before 8pm a trumpet plays the so called “Taptoe-signal” to be followed at 8pm by silence for two minutes. The end of the two minutes is usually marked by the Dutch anthem ‘Wilhelmus’. The national flag will hang half-staff on many houses and government buildings.

The main ceremony of the 4th of May takes place at the center of Amsterdam at the national monument on dam square (de dam), which is broadcasted live on Dutch TV. The Royal Family will be present as well as representatives of the Dutch government. There will be speeches, usually very impressive, about topics like courage, freedom and humanity.

The 4th of May is not to be confused by the Catholic second of November where the loved ones that passed away are remembered (Allerzielen). On the 4th of May it is a sign of respect, also as an expat/international citizen of the Netherlands, to stop what you’re doing at 8pm and be silent for two minutes.

Liberation Day (Bevrijdingsdag)

On the 5th of May the Dutch celebrate the liberation from Nazi Germany at the end of World War II. It is a national holiday where many people are free from work and will go out to celebrate, taking part of local festivities that take place during the day. Usually activities for children are organized and at night there will be music and fireworks in many places.

Although every year fewer people that lived during the World War II are still alive, the terror of the second world war is still part of the Dutch collective memory. The awareness that freedom is something to cherish and be grateful for is still present in all layers of society.

On liberation day this joy of freedom and sense of national identity can almost be felt among the celebrating crowds at music concerts (Bevrijdingsfestival) and other festivities. Especially since the daily news is currently dominated by examples of intolerance towards others, suppression and lack of freedom Liberation Day may unconsciously become a day of increased importance to the Dutch.

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This article was initially written by Michel Daenen for “International Almere” in 2016. In april 2018 it was re-published after slight adjustments. Michel Daenen is currently Director of International Almere www.internationalalmere.com

(c) Michel Daenen, Almere 2016 and 2018.

Please do not copy or use parts of this article without correct attribution.