Friday, April 30, 2010

Craziness in the House of Orange (Otherwise known as an American's view of yet another nutty Dutch festival, Queen's Day)

The Dutch have a lot of strange traditions, then again, they think a lot of American traditions as strange as well. But, this is not about that, this is about Queen's Day which is one of the most beloved and celebrated days of the year in the Netherlands.

Queen's Day which is the celebration of the Queen's birthday is a legal holiday in the Netherlands and probably one of the most anticipated days of the year. It is a joyous celebration of being Dutch. The Dutch are very proud of their national heritage, particularly of how much their small country has contributed to the world over the centuries. The Dutch were leaders in trade, shipping, exploration and modern science and engineering among other things. The Dutch are also probably among the most liberal of Europe. They are hugely proud of their liberal and modern attitudes that permit many forms of so-called debauchery which are taboo and illegal in other countries, but (contrary to Fox News untrue claims) still the Netherlands boasts a low crime rate and very low rate of drug addicts or drug seeking crime.

To be perfectly honest Queen's Day isn't actually the birthday of the current Queen Beatrix but her mother, the former Queen Julianna who is no longer living. They continue to celebrate Queen's Day on this day since it is in the spring and the current Queen's birthday is in the winter.

In a lot of senses Queen's Day is the ultimate embrace of all things Dutch and the Dutch celebrate it with unbridled abandon. The evening before Queen's Day is known as Queen's night and it is just one huge party in the cities. All the bars and restaurants have special evenings and people party into the wee, wee hours. People are dressed in Orange (to symbolize the Dutch royal family, the House of Orange), paint their faces, wear crazy hats and sunglasses and party, party, party. It is hard to walk down the streets in Amsterdam on Queen's night because they are just littered with tons and tons of people.

At the very end of the night, when Dawn is approaching, the last of the revelers go home to sleep it off and in the morning the Vrijmarkt (Free Market) takes place. In all the town squares it is possible for ordinary citizens to get a spot on the square and sell their unwanted belongings. The Dutch are crazy about their rules and you need permits to do just about anything, I always joke that you need a government permit to go to the toilet here. Things are that strict. So, for instance, you cannot have a garage sale in the Netherlands, even in your own garage without a permit. And guess what, if you get the permit, then the government is going to collect taxes on your proceeds, which means your little garage sale will net you next to nothing. So, guess what? Never garage sales here, and it is nearly impossible to sell unwanted things. (Note to self: I miss the Pennysaver).

On Queen's Day however, every person is free to load up their car, bike, radio flyer wagon, or shopping cart that they ripped off from the grocery store parking lot. They can load up all the crap they don't want anymore, including your mother in law's priceless collection of felt butterfly-embossed glasses that she got for free by 5 years of collecting box tops of motor oil, take them to the vrijmarkt and try to find some sucker who either has no taste, or hoarders who get off on buying crap for 50 cents (it's a legitimate disease people, Oprah said it herself) or both.

Particularly if the weather is nice in Amsterdam during the day the canals are jam packed with boats with celebrating people in Orange. And when I say Orange, I mean O-R-A-N-G-E. Investment bankers dressed head to toe in orange, with orange feather headdresses, painted orange t-shirts that say stupid stuff like 'I got laid in Amsterdam'. I've never really desired riding in a helicopter because I'm scared of heights but I must admit, I would like to be in a helicopter on Queen's Day and fly over the Netherlands and see all those orange beings bobbling up and down on the water.

Other festivities which go on is the national guessing game of where the Royal Family is going to spend Queen's Day. Each year the Royal Family goes to a different city or town and nobody knows where until the morning of Queen's Day (or so the legend goes). They make an appearance and mix with the common folk so it is actually possible to shake hands with the Queen or other members of the Dutch Royal Family if you are standing near the barricades in whatever town or city they happen to choose as their place to spend Queen's Day. The news gives updates every 10 or 15 minutes, people phone in alleged Queen sitings until she actually shows up someplace. So throngs of people, all eager for the chance for a glimpse of the Royal Family get up at 5AM to get a good spot in case they are going to show up so they can shake their hands or be close enough to touch them. I hope they give out free lollipops or something to those towns where they are a no-show, that could get downright dangerous if people are disappointed enough. I can see the headlines now. 'Royalist Worshippers turn into Ugly Mob'.

The most prominent members of the Dutch Royal Family, Queen Beatrix (top) and Prince Willem-Alexander and Princess Maxima 'hanging' with their loyal subjects on Queen's Day
So, to wrap up, what is Queen's Day?
-the not-quite birthday of the Queen
-dress head to toe in orange
-party til you drop
-stumble home, load up crap
-try to recover some of what you spent last night by selling granny's undies
-redo orange face paint from night before, adjust headdress
-drink barely cold wine (Europeans, hence no ice cubes) and get slightly nauseous on overcrowded boat
-wait, possibly in vain to touch hem of Queen

This year's bonus: The Garbage Collectors have called for a Queen's Day strike. Actually the news sites which usually show loads of photos of party revelers are just showing piles of litter on the city streets. This just in: Garbage Trumps Queen.

So, you ask how do we spend Queen's Day? We hang out and barbecue ala Memorial Day.

Actually in a little while we are heading to the Free Market.


  1. Speaking of yard sales. We are still using the dining room set that we got from you when you left Israel! We have redone our apartment several times, but the table and chairs remain. Then again, until the kids came along, we had never eaten at the table. Even today, it is used for crafts as much as for eating. Still, great table and chair set!!!
    I love Holland, but wouldn't be able to deal with the weather or all the rules.

  2. I just had to pop over when I saw you guest blogging at Jen's today. I lived in the Netherlands for 5 years in the late 90's. That was pre-marriage and autistic child. I actually met my husband over there at a cheesy (now defunct) faux-American BBQ joint called Red Hot & Blue. I'm wondering what it's like for you to navigate education and special services over there. I'm sure you talk about it in your blog, but of course I headed right for the Queen's Day post! The years that I spent over there were the best of my life!

  3. Hi Lynn,

    Thanks for checking me out. I've been here 9 years and I do love it. It's not easy to navigate the educational stuff but it's my only experience doing it, so I guess I am used to it. I blog a lot about NL, so check out my Dutch Society postings.

    Thanks for reading!