Category Archives: Dutch Celebrations

What the Dutch celebrate and how. Good luck with your first circle party.

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.

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

Kings Day by our Members …

April 27th is here and when you’re an international living in the Netherlands, it can seem like the whole country is going orange crazy … so International Almere is here to help you survive Kings Day in Almere, and some tips for if you decide to head out to the bigger celebrations in Amsterdam.

We asked our members for the best tips on where to go in Almere, personal experiences and stories, and survival tips so we could make a Guide to Kings Day in Almere and beyond!

Memories of Kings Day

Our members shared their experiences of Kings Day – the good, the funny, the cultural mishaps and the bad.  From childhood memories of selling toys, to broken down cars, relocation disasters and even those who were disappointed in the party, they told their stories.

When I was young me and my brother went to sit and sell stuff with my dad. We got up early (well, like 5-6 am) and drive to the city centre, which was not nearly as big as it is now. We would find a nice spot and sit there all day ’till about 5 on our blanket. We did this for years. But slowly the people started to realize that the early bird gets the best buy, and sellers started to realize they would have to come earlier to have the early birds scouting their stuff.. and to claim a good space. Because, Almere was getting bigger every year. Well, that resulted in today people starting to sell from the day before. And although it’s not allowed to sell before 6 pm on the 26th people usually start earlier than that. Petra (Netherlands)

Queens Day and I didn’t start off the right foot. Back in ’89 I was young, naive and came from the country of street- and community party’s. Any party held in public, whether it was the a public holiday, a 700th anniversary of the city, the annual fair of the fire brigade/men’s choir/local gymnastic society/ local church etc., came always with a) music b) beer (ok, in case of the church tea and coffee) and c) food. A LOT of food. Dozens of cakes and pies, “Schwenkbraten” (BBQ), Bratwurst ohne ende…You get the picture. Anyway, at my first Queens Day I left the house, excited to discover the Dutch way to party and try their specialties and found thousands of happy Dutch people drinking beer (Yay!!) and selling their old belongings (huh????). I went home, hungry and disappointed. These days we have Kings Day though, and I have to admit, it has it charms. Once I realized beer is a good companion with almost anything at Kings Day AND I found a charming Dutchman who introduced me to the real thing (Amsterdam), I started to enjoy it. Kings day has everything. From spontaneous street parties, to markets, to gigantic festivals. In Almere I love going to the Belfort Plein, enjoying the sunshine (if we get so lucky) and some music, In Amsterdam I love the market which is kids only at the Vondelpark. Utrecht is also great with lots of terraces, music and a relaxed day out. The fun is starting the evening before though, with Kings Night. In the city centre people start to sell their second hand goods and the first parties are getting started. My advice if this is your first Kings day? Go with the flow and enjoy. Just like the Dutch do! Doreen (Germany)

When i was young it was heaps of fun.. sitting there at 3am .. people was kind and had lots of laughs. My parents car even broke down on our way with all our stuff in ! People started helping pushing the car down to the mall. We’d take food and coffee with us.. my aunts and uncles was always standing next to a whole line of family next to each other.. damn good times.. memories.. Katrina (Australia/Netherlands)

 I used to love Queens day in Hilversum, there was always a Kermis and loads of free activities for the children, bouncy castles, pony rides, face painting, lots of live music, it was always a fantastic day out. We loved looking what was for sale and getting a bargain. I have to say I was really disappointed when we moved to Almere as there really wasn’t that much on in comparison. Rachael (Australia)

Surviving Amsterdam

It’s said that you’ve never experienced Kings Day until you’ve been to one in Amsterdam.  And yes, we know that Almere is the place to be, our members have also given us their stories and tips for Kings Day in Amsterdam.

Jordaan is very nice on Kings Day! That’s near the Westertoren and Anne Frank museum area! Go early because it’s very busy there ! There’s very creative and funny people who do karaoke from out their window or more funny selling ideas and in the Elandstraat and the Eesterstraat, Noordermarkt & Laurierstraat are really easy to recommend!

 It is such an experience, Kingsday in Amsterdam! I really recommend it for that international feeling of togetherness, joy, and delightfulness, it always gives such a rewarding feeling that day  Internationalism and people from all over the world are like brothers it’s a genuine experience and gives hope (that’s my personal experience) for a better world it is possible Marita (Netherlands)

Survival tips for Amsterdam

  1. Go early
  2. Park legally – if you go to Amstel station and then bike or take public transport.
  3. Watch out for glass on the ground and wear closed shoes.
  4. Take small change for toilets and bargains!
  5. Take a litre of water
  6. If you’re going with friends, pick a meeting point for the end of the day in case you get separated
  7. Keep your personal items (phones, wallets) safe at all times.
  8. Wear orange!

November 11 is Sint Maarten!

November 11. In the evening children (with their parents preferably) go door to door with a lantern and get candy in exchange for singing Sint Maarten songs. The feast has gained popularity in the Netherlands. In the previous century it wasn’t celebrated everywhere, but somehow it did find it’s way to Almere quite early on. It’s the name day of Utrecht’s Patron Saint Martinus van Tours, and the origin is purely speculation. Continue reading November 11 is Sint Maarten!

The Dutch Circle Party Guide

Invader StuIt would be impossible to be an Expat living in the Netherlands without knowing about Invading Holland. It’s much like The Undutchables; a must-read for us all. Invading Holland is a light-hearted look into life in the Netherlands with hilarious anecdotes about having your bike stolen, an addiction to Speculoos and signs to look out for that you might be becoming Dutch…

Earlier this month, Stu, the voice behind Invading Holland won a Bloggie, which is the bloggers’ equivalent of The Oscars. It’s not a big deal, it is THE big deal.

Now, to the article.

Anyone who has lived in Holland for any length of time has most likely encountered a Dutch circle party and those who have not will eventually, it is inevitable. A Dutch circle party (the name is not a euphemism) can be best described as a ‘party’ that involves sitting in a circle all afternoon and chatting while drinking tea and eating cake. Anyone who only considers a party to be a party if someone is passed out in the corner, people are making out in the kitchen and the cops have been called at least three times is going to be sorely disappointed.

When attending a Dutch circle party it is important to know that when other attendees shake your hand and announce ‘Gefeliciteerd’ they are not introducing themselves. It might start to seem like you are being introduced to a very big family or that Gefeliciteerd is a more common name than Smith but they are in fact wishing you, “congratulations”.


“Stuart. Nice to meet you Mr and Mrs Gefeliciteerd.”

This is because it is custom for the Dutch to congratulate everyone at the party and (as I discovered) is not because they are unsure about who the birthday boy or girl is (don’t try to be helpful by pointing).

Once you have successfully found a place to sit with in the circle (not necessarily with the people you arrived with and most likely with people you don’t know at all) you will be offered a drink and some cake. If you desire a drink with a little extra kick it is advisable to secretly conceal a hip flask of alcohol about your person since the strongest thing to be served at most Dutch circle parties is chamomile tea.

Circle PartyIt is also custom for there to be a minimum of 3 or 4 generations of family present at a Dutch circle party (the maximum limit is only set by the average human life span). This makes it entirely possible to go from a conversation about life as a member of the Dutch resistance during World War 2 to which Sesame Street character is best and why (It’s best to avoid getting these two conversations mixed up, Dora the Explore was never part of the Dutch resistance).

However, since a lot of these conversations will be in Dutch and thus impossible for a non-Dutch speaker to follow it is best to find something of interest to do to pass the time such as; staring at a wall, listening to the clock tick, trying to guess how much Dutch ‘worst & kaas’ you can eat or simply going to your happy place.

However, you must also stay alert! As a non Dutch speaker it is possible to go from being unintentionally ignored to suddenly having the entire room focus upon you within a split second as everyone waits silently for your answer to a question that you might not have heard because you were too busy watching a bug crawl across the window. This can happen because a Dutch attendee simply wanted to practice their English, ask you what brought you to Holland or simply know the current prices of the UK housing market. Whatever the reason, everyone in the room suddenly wants to hear the English speaker talk and they never seem to realize what a shock to the system this sudden intimidating attention can be or that testing us on our Dutch under the watchful eye of a room full of native speakers is not necessarily the most comfortable of situations.

But do not worry. Most Dutch circle parties have a set end time at a very respectable hour which the host or hostess will politely remind you of by starting to clean up around you.


This post orig­i­nally appeared on Invading Holland and has been repub­lished with full permission.

Comment below with your funniest Circle Party experience to win one of Stu’s Circle Party Survivor t-shirts.  The post with the most number of likes will be announced the winner.  This competition is open to residents of the Netherlands only and only comments on this article below will be eligible for the prize.  Good luck!

UPDATE: We have a winner! Stephanie Ernst-Milner, Stu’s Circle Party tshirt is all yours! We will be in touch to give you your shirt as soon as possible, so check your email!

Thanks very much to everybody who entered and submitted stories. We haven’t laughed so hard in ages.

And thanks again to Stu for such a wonderful post and a wonderful prize.

Champagne Glasses

Dutch New Year: Oud en Nieuw

Oud en Nieuw consists of Oudejaarsavond (New Year’s Eve) on December 31 and Nieuwjaarsdag (New Year’s Day) on January 1 which is a public holiday.

Champagne Glasses
© Tim Baker (FlickR: timmygunz)

New Year’s Eve

New Year’s Eve is usually spent enjoying a party with friends and family or going into town to see open-air concerts and the fireworks around the city. Fans of loud banging noises will have a field day, as overzealous children of all ages set off crackers. The red cracker papers turn the streets bright red. I’m told that the tradition of setting off fireworks and crackers has something to do with old pagan customs of driving away demons, so that the New Year could begin with a clean slate. At the stroke of midnight, firework displays brightly color the sky and the cacophony of people wishing each other aGelukkig Nieuwjaar (Happy New Year) can be heard all around.

New Year’s Day

It has become traditional (for some crazy die hards) to take a Nieuwjaarsduik at noon on New Year’s Day. This involves taking a dip in the freezing cold North Sea at Scheveningen beach in the Hague. The swimmers are rewarded with a steaming cup of Dutch winter soup, usually erwtensoep, a thick split pea soup with smoked sausage.

Traditional Oud en Nieuw treats include:

  • oliebollen
  • appelflappen
  • erwtensoep

Saint Nicholas: Sinterklaas

@copy; Esther Wieringa (Flickr: wester)

The Dutch have their very own tradition in December, Sinterklaas. This man should not be mistaken for Santa Claus or Father Christmas even if they do have kind of the same job. Sinterklaas does not come from the North Pole and he does not have reindeers, brownies or a red cap with a tuft. Sinterklaas lives in Spain and he has a white horse. Instead of the brownies he has Zwarte Pieten, Black Piets, who assist him on his journey, little helpers with dark skin and colourful clothes.

They all board a ship sailing from Spain to a port (different every year) in the Netherlands and when arriving, they are welcomed by the mayor and citizens. They arrive sometime in mid November just in time for the annual parade which is the start of the “Sinterklaas season”. The following weeks are spent to the assessment of the behavior of the children during the past year. In short, if they have been naughty or nice. He keeps this information in a large leather bound book, with gold print. They get to sit on his lap and then he asks them about their behavior during the year. And you can not lie to Sinterklaas, can you? That is why naughty children go straight into the sack and have to go back to Spain with Sinterklaas.

The eve of December 5th is a special day for all Dutch children. This is when Sinterklaas rides around the country on his white horse. Children put shoes under the chimney and they also place a piece of carrot in them as a reward for the horse. Sinterklaas stops at the roof of the houses and send a Piet down the chimney to put some kind of gift in the shoes. This is often a piece of chocolate in the form of the receiver’s first initial and pepernoten, small hard cookies. This is a very busy time for Sinterklaas, in the day he visits schools and other places and in the evening people’s homes. He knocks on the door and hand out gifts from his sack.

Of course he needs a bit help sometimes, so kind souls dress up in a red cape with golden embroidery over white clothes, fix themselves a nice white beard and put a mitre-shaped red hat with a golden cross on their heads and grab a golden shepherd’s staff to go with that. These clothes are much similar to the ones worn by bishops. This because the model of Sinterklaas is said to have been Saint Nicholas, a bishop from Myra in Turkey born in 271 AD. There are numerous legends about his good deeds. One story is that he saved three little girls from being sold by their poor father. By throwing three golden pieces for their dowry through the window he saved them from a future in despair. It just happen to be that the gifts landed in the stockings that the girls had hung up by the fireplace to dry. Another story say that he brought three children back to life after they had been chopped up by a butcher. He just put the pieces together and prayed and suddenly they were alive without a scratch. He is also the patron saint of the sailors after calming a storm at sea and when doing that he saved the lives of many people, including himself. Old scripts say that Saint Nicholas died on the 6th of December in 343 AD, that is why he is remembered this time a year. His relics have been the subject of some disagreements, but they are said to be in Bari in Italy since 1087.

Saint Nicholas connection to shipping might explain why Sinterklaas is said to live in Spain. In the 17th century the Netherlands was a major shipping nation and the country had close connections with Spain. This would also explain the dark colour of the skin of the Zwarte Pieten, since Spain naturally gets more sun than northern Europe. Another explanation for it could be the constant climbing up and down sooty chimneys.

The celebration of Sinterklaas is foremost for children and families, but some friends also celebrate with giving each other gifts. Short humorous rhymes or poems are attached to the gifts and they often have a personal touch. There are a number of popular songs about Sinterklaas and the stories surrounding him. Special food that is close connected to the celebration are Speculaas, a spiced cake filled with almond paste. Marzipan is another appreciated goodie.

On Christmas, the 25th and 26th of December, Father Christmas visit some families and bring gifts. Others just do not care for the fellow and all the fuss around him.


Children with dodgy lanterns

St. Martin’s Day: St-Maarten

Children with dodgy lanterns
© Servien (Wikipedia Commons)

St. Martin’s Day on November 11th, is today mostly known for children running around the neighbourhood with dodgy lanterns and calling on you with off-pitch songs (the shorter the better). You will then have to pay them off if you want them to leave to sing at the neighbour’s door. Commonly, these payments are made in the form of sweets – however, unreliable sources have informed us that the giving of fruit will drastically reduce the singing masses in the following year.

Historically, hiring fairs were held where farm laborers would seek new posts. The feast day is November 11, the feast day of St. Martin of Tours, who started out as a Roman soldier. He was baptized as an adult and became a monk. It is understood that he was a kind man who led a quiet and simple life. The most famous legend of his life is that he once cut his cloak in half to share with a beggar during a snowstorm, to save the beggar from dying of the cold. That night he dreamed that Jesus was wearing the half-cloak Martin had given away. Martin heard Jesus say to the angels: “Here is Martin, the Roman soldier who is not baptised; he has clothed me.” (source: Wikipedia)

HRH Queen Beatrix

Queen’s Speech: Prinsjesdag

“Prinsjesdag”: The Speech from the Throne

HRH Queen Beatrix
© Max Mayorov (Flickr: mcsdwarken)

This is the day on which the Queen addresses a joint session of the Upper and Lower Houses of Parliament in the Ridderzaal or Hall of Knights in The Hague. The Speech from the Throne sets out the main features of government policy for the coming parliamentary session. The occasion is prescribed by the constitution, article 65 of which states: ‘A statement of the policy to be pursued by the Government shall be given by or on behalf of the King before a joint session of the two Houses of the States General that shall be held every year on the third Tuesday in September or on such earlier date as may be prescribed by Act of Parliament’.

The Speech from the Throne has no fixed order of sequence: over the years it has varied considerably as regards length and content.Until 1983, the annual session of parliament was opened on the third Tuesday in September. However, the revision of the constitution in that year changed the length of a parliamentary session from one year to four. This means that Prinsjesdag is no longer the official opening of the parliamentary session.

Origins of the name

Prinsjesdag or Prince’s Day was originally instituted to mark the birthday of Stadholder Prince William V (8 March). In the 18th century it was one of the country’s most popular public holidays. In the Patriot era (1780-1797) it provided an opportunity for demonstrations of loyalty to the House of Orange. This is probably why the name was chosen in the 19th century for the ceremonial opening of Parliament.

The third Tuesday in September

The constitution has long stated that the opening of parliament should take place on a fixed date, but it was only with the revision of 1887 that it was laid down that it should be the third Tuesday in September. Originally, in the first half of the 19th century, it had been the first Monday in November and then the third Monday in October. When annual budgets were introduced by the 1848 revision of the constitution, more time was needed to debate them and so the opening date was brought forward by a month. But Monday was unsatisfactory.

Many members of parliament from distant parts of the country found it difficult to reach The Hague early on Mondays. So that they did not have to leave home on a Sunday, the 1887 revision of the constitution moved the opening of parliament to a Tuesday. Even though Prinsjesdag has not represented the official opening of the parliamentary session since 1983, the third Tuesday in September still remains in the constitution as the day on which the Speech from the Throne is delivered.

The Hall of Knights

The Speech from the Throne is delivered in the Ridderzaal or Hall of Knights in the Binnenhof in The Hague , which was built by Count Floris V of Holland in 1280. However, from 1815 to 1904, the Speech was given in the assembly room of the Lower House. After an extensive restoration at the beginning of the 20th century, the Hall of Knights – now with a gothic throne on the dais and the flags of the provinces hanging from the ceiling – once again became a worthy setting for state ceremonial.

Just before 12.30 p.m., the members of the two Houses assemble, sitting opposite the throne and on its left and right side. The ministers and state secretaries and the Council of State are on the left. They and the members of parliament all sit in the ‘enceinte’, an area enclosed by unobtrusive wooden barriers symbolising the fact that the head of state is in conference with parliament and the Council of State. The presence of the Council of State dates from its standing at the beginning of the 19th century as the most important body advising the head of state. Although its nature has changed considerably since then, it has retained its place at the ceremony in the Hall of Knights because it is still the Crown’s supreme advisory body. Indeed, under the constitution the Council of State may, if necessary, exercise the royal prerogative.

Elsewhere are the seats for the members of the other High Councils of State, senior civil servants, high-ranking officers of the armed forces, senior members of the judiciary, the Queen’s Commissioner in the province of South Holland , the mayor of The Hague , the representatives of foreign heads of state and specially invited guests.

Shortly before 1 p.m. the Speaker of the Upper House, who presides over the joint session, opens the meeting, and then appoints a number of ushers from among the members of the two Houses for the Queen and her entourage.

The procession to the Binnenhof

On the stroke of one, the Queen, normally accompanied by other members of the royal house, leaves Noordeinde Palace for the Binnenhof, escorted by court dignitaries and a military guard of honour. The Queen travels in the golden coach.

The route taken to the Binnenhof has changed over the years. The procession used to pass through the Stadhouderspoort or Stadholder’s Gate, between the Binnenhof and the Buitenhof, as it was high enough to allow the golden coach to pass underneath it. But when the flagstones were renewed in 1925 the road was raised somewhat and the gate became too low. Since then the golden coach has approached the Binnenhof from the other side, past the Mauritshuis through the Middenpoort (Middle Gate) and Grenadierspoort (Grenadiers’ Gate), though even these gateways are barely higher than the tip of the crown on the top of the coach.

Guards of honour and military bands stand outside Noordeinde Palace and at the Binnenhof. From the moment the procession leaves the palace, salutes are fired at one-minute intervals to let the people know that the head of state is on her way to the joint session of the States General.

Ceremony in the Hall of Knights

When the Queen arrives in the Binnenhof the band by the steps strikes up the national anthem. The Queen and the other members of the royal family salute the flag and mount the steps of the Hall of Knights, above which hangs a canopy. At the entrance to the Hall they are received by the ushers. The Speaker announces the arrival of the head of state, the sign for everyone present to rise. The Queen then proceeds to the throne, from where she delivers her speech.

After the Queen’s closing words, the Speaker cries ‘Long live the Queen’, which is followed by three cheers from everyone present. The first time this happened was in 1897, when the young Wilhelmina accompanied her mother, Queen Regent Emma. This brings to an end the joint assembly of the two Houses; it is a purely ceremonial occasion, with no political discussion.

The royal party is escorted to the door, and the Speaker declares the session closed. The guard of honour forms once again in the Binnenhof as the Queen leaves the Hall of Knights, and the procession returns to the palace.

(Text originally from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but has been removed from their site and can thus not be linked to anymore.)


Memorial Days


May 4th is Memorial Day in remembrance for the people who have fought and died during World War II, and wars in general. There is a remembrance gathering in the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam and at the National Monument on the Dam Square in Amsterdam. Throughout the country, two minutes of silence are observed at 8:00 p.m.


© Jeffrey James Pacres (Flickr: jjpacres)
May 5th is Liberation Day to mark the end of the occupation by Nazi Germany during World War II. Though this is a national holiday, not everyone has this as a free day every year. This is down to company policy – at least once every 5 years ( 2015, 2020, 2025 etc.) everyone gets the day off from work. Festivals are held at most places in the Netherlands.

Shops may have irregular hours both of these days

Easter Eggs

Easter in the Netherlands is Paas

Good Friday- Goede Vrijdag

Good Friday is public holiday in the Netherlands. However that does not mean that you will get off from work. I never got the logic of that, but new places, new rules. Banks are usually closed and many shops will be shut or close early on Good Friday.

Easter Eggs
© Boby Dimitrov (Flickr: bobydimitrov)

Easter Sunday – Paas Zondag

Easter Sunday is a proper public holiday in the Netherlands. Some stores will be open on Easter Sunday, but the majority will stay closed.
Children spend the morning decorating Easter eggs with brightly colored paint and hunting chocolate eggs that have been hidden by the Easter Mummy… uhh… make that the Easter Bunny.

Traditionally, an Easter brunch is held on the Sunday. The table is decorated with the freshly painted Easter eggs, candles, spring flowers like daffodils, tulips and hyacinths, and a vase with decorated willow branches (paastakken). Hanging from this ‘Easter tree’ are chocolate eggs and ornaments like butterflies, bows and bunnies. The brunch consists of a Paasstol (a fruited Easter loaf with a center of soft almond paste), butter shaped like a lamb or bunny, bread rolls, hard boiled eggs, smoked salmon, smoked eel, and other more typical Dutch breakfast items.
In the east almost every village lights an Easter bonfire on some hill or high point. People begin collecting wood for the fires weeks in advance, each area tries to outdo each other by building the biggest and best fire than its neighbors.

Easter Monday – Paas Maandag

Easter Monday is a public holiday in the Netherlands and most likely you will get the day off – unless you work in one of the many stores that are open Easter Monday. If they are open, they commonly open later and/or close earlier than usual. Public transport services generally operate a slightly reduced service, but there may be no public transport in rural areas. There are some restrictions on the sale of alcohol on Easter Monday. There may be some congestion around shopping malls specialized in furniture or garden supplies and popular visitor attractions and on routes back from popular short break destinations.

Weather permitting, Dutch families often spend the day at an amusement park or cycling in the countryside. Bad weather Easters often mean big business for shopping centers and furniture stores. Foodwise, leftovers from Easter Sunday are usually enjoyed. They may also perform household maintenance or seasonal tasks in their gardens, take a walk along the coast, and ride on a cycle while admiring the first signs of spring. Easter fires (paasvuren) are lit in some villages in the northern and eastern parts of the Netherlands.