The first time I heard about Koninginnedag (or Queen’s Day for the rest of us) was my first time in Amsterdam. An Israeli guy befriended me in my hostel, flabbergasted as to why I decided to arrive in the city only a few days after the Dutch national day.
Queen’s Day. Pffft, I thought. Back in Australia, my last ten or so Queen’s Birthday holidays had been spent watching Collingwood playing Melbourne at the MCG. It was always cold, wet, and we’d usually lose. What on earth could the Dutch offer me for the birthday celebration of their respective monarch?
Nothing, actually. Queen Beatrix’s birthday is in January, when the Dutch aren’t interested in public holidays at all. It’s just way too cold. April 30 would be better, their previous queen’s birthday. Nicer weather, they would tell me.
Yeah, right. The weather in most of western Europe has been horrible of late. “Never fear,” they would all tell me. “Beatrix will get it right, it never rains on Queen’s Day.”
And it didn’t. The sun was out, and so were the rest of the Dutch.
Most countries celebrate their national day by a grand parade, a trumpet or two and perhaps some rousing nationalist speeches. The Dutch celebrate theirs by wearing orange, heading to free dance festivals and participating in the largest garage sale in the world.
Let me just go back to that last point. Queen Beatrix’s present to her country is the annual suspension of trading licences. Sound strange? It’s actually very Dutch; she’s gone straight for their wallets.
What does this mean? Basically, mass garage sales in cities and villages all over the country. We decided to spend our Queen’s Day in Dordrecht, with my friend Joel and Paul’s friends Roel and Niki.
The markets were fascinating. Families (read: kids who want to sell their old toys) would wake up when it’s still dark to get a good spot to sell their wares in town.
We picked over (broken) PlayStations, (amputated) Barbies and (dog-eared) novels. If you got their early enough though, you’d find some pretty awesome bargains. Hardly anything was priced at over three euro.
Some people were creative, too. We spied brothers trying to sell each other, young girls playing the clarinet and kids offering cupcakes with little Dutch flags affixed atop. Despite their dads watching over whilst downing their Heinekens, the atmosphere was, to use the Dutch word, ‘gezellig’. It was jovial, comfortable and good clean fun.
Keen to experience as many Queen’s Day traditions as possible, we quickly started on our Heinekens and made our way to the Dordrecht Dance Tour. We were dekked out in our orange, despite orange not really being my colour. My wardrobe featured two orange shirts, both from work. One screamed ‘Oktoberfest’ on the front and ‘prost’ on the back, with me deeming a German shirt not particularly appropriate for the Dutch national day. I swapped to another advertising La Tomatina, before realising that the Spanish haven’t particularly been their busom buddies either. Exasperated, I chucked on one of Paul’s orange football shirts instead.
Dance festivals are held in a number of Dutch cities on Queen’s Day, and Dordrecht’s is known as one of the most popular. It also helps that it’s free, so we diligently lined up with thousands of other young Dutchies for two hours to get in to Dancetour, despite being very willing to pay an entrance fee. By mid-afternoon, Dutch police would be advising people not to enter cities like Eindhoven, Leiden and Dordrecht as they’d be ‘too full’. I’m not a huge fan of dance music, but it is very Dutch and hey, I can’t turn my nose up at culture, now can I?
So we danced away in the sun, until the Dutchies went from blinding white to a rusty red. A combination of beer, sun and dance made us walk zombie-like back home, keen for a little siesta before the last part of the day.
Nevertheless, after a good pick-me-up in the form of chocolate ripple cake (there had to be an Aussie component of the day) we headed down to the former city gate, facing the mighty Rhine and Maas rivers. And we closed out the day, everyone bleary-eyed, in your typical national day fanfare. Fireworks.
Although this time, the fireworks came from a ship. We oohed, ahhed and patted ourselves on the back. We’d had a very Dutch Queen’s Day, and as we cycled back home, I smiled to myself. What a cool country.