When Obama said his visit to The Netherlands was ‘truly gezellig’, he captured the Dutch spirit in just 2 words. Literally, gezellig means cozy, quaint, or nice. But it means much more than that: it is time spent with loved ones or general togetherness. Dutch love to gather with their loved ones to celebrate things. Especially during their typical Dutch festivities.
There are some festivities in the Netherlands that are celebrated on a yearly basis. Some of them are official holidays on which you get a day off, others are celebrated after working hours. Nonetheless, if you want to have a good time and mingle with the locals you should definitely join these festivities. Here is why and how!
New Year’s Day (January 1)
New Year’s Eve is a huge celebration in the Netherlands, just like in any other country in the world. The Dutch have their very own traditions during this evening. They eat a lot of oliebollen (a traditional Dutch pastry: deep-fried dough balls with raisins) and watch the beautiful fireworks when the clock strikes 12. You can also join the fun, by lighting up fireworks as you are allowed to buy your own. Keep in mind that this is only allowed from December 31 18.00 hrs to January 1 02.00 hrs.
And if you are really brave and want to start the new year fresh, you can always join one of the many New Year swims on the 1st of January, with the most famous of all being the one in Scheveningen. Each year around 30,000 people participate in this Nieuwjaarsduik.
Easter (between March 22 and April 25)
Easter is a real family event. The Dutch usually have a lovely Easter breakfast or brunch. Kids are painting Easter eggs or go look for them in the garden, while the grown-ups enjoy each other’s company. You can attend a beautiful performance of the Matthäus Passion, spend some time strolling past the many stands at one of the Easter markets or visit one of the Easter activities such as Paaspop.
King’s Day (April 27)
One of the most famous Dutch festivities is King’s Day: the day on which we celebrate the King’s birthday. Be sure to dress in orange - the national color of the Netherlands - or else you will not fit in. The streets are filled with people dancing in their orange outfits and there are a lot of activities. There are street markets everywhere, where people sell their stuff and home-made treats. Bands are playing on every street corner and every pub is serving beer outside. Tradition dictates that the Royal family visits 1 or 2 municipalities in the country on this day, so with any luck you might see them yourself!
The Hague is to place to be if you are looking for something to do on the night before King’s day: King’s Night! On this night, well-known bands and DJ’s perform on the various squares in The Hague.
National Remembrance Day (May 4) / Liberation Day (May 5)
The Dutch find it very important to commemorate World War II. Therefore, they remember all of the victims of the World War II (and other wars) on May 4, National Remembrance Day. They celebrate being liberated on May 5, Liberation Day.
Remembrance Day began as a memorial day specifically for those killed in World War II, but since 1961 it has also included victims of other military conflicts and peacekeeping missions. The main ceremony on the Dam in Amsterdam is attended by the Dutch royal family and military leaders and veterans, with speeches and a flower-laying ceremony. In The Hague the memorial service takes place at the Waalsdorpervlakte, a remembrance ground to fallen resistance fighters. Keep in mind that there is a 2-minute silence at 20.00 hrs every year. Public transport and other traffic stop at this time. The services at the Dam and Waalsdorpervlakte are broadcasted live on TV. This is not a public holiday.
Every 5th of May, the Netherlands marks the end of Nazi Germany occupation during World War II with a range of events and celebrations on Liberation Day. It is only a public holiday every 5 years (the next being in 2020), which means that in the other years you will not get a day off.
On Liberation Day, you should definitely visit one of the many Liberation Festivals taking place across the country. Throughout the country, Dutch bands and international musicians and DJs will perform live. Or go to any of the other Liberation Day events, such as military parades, debates, street theatre performances, festival markets, guided tours, film screenings and even ‘speed dating’ events where people can speak to veterans about their stories and experiences from the war.
Sinterklaas (December 5)
In mid-November, 2 weeks before December 5, Sinterklaas arrives in the Netherlands by boat from his home in Spain. Many kids are welcoming Sinterklaas during his arrival (intocht) with their parents.
During the 2 weeks before his 'birthday', Sinterklaas rides across rooftops at night on his white horse, listening through chimneys for good children and leaving them gifts and sweets in their shoes. It is tradition that children put out their shoe at night with a carrot for the horse.
On December 5, Sinterklaas ends with Pakjesavond (Gifts Evening). On Pakjesavond, children anxiously wait for Sinterklaas to knock on their door. Although Sint will usually have flown by the time they answer, a sack full of gifts will await them on their doorstep. Following Sinterklaas' visit, each member of the family takes turns handing out presents and unwrapping them. Names are printed on each gift, and almost every present is accompanied by a humorous poem about the gift's recipient, sometimes teasing them about their good and bad habits. December 5 is not a public holiday.
Christmas (December 25 – 26)
Dutch Christmas consists of 2 days: Eerste Kerstdag (First Christmasday) and Tweede Kerstdag (Second Christmasday). The celebration is typified by family gatherings, during which delicious food and drinks are served. Some Dutch families give each other presents. Dutch streets and homes are filled with Christmas trees, lights and other decorations. In some cities, Christmas markets serve hot chocolate and mulled wine and sell winter themed gifts, art and antiques.
Other public holidays
There are some other public holidays, but these are not really being celebrated. These are:
- Hemelvaartsdag (Ascension Day): between April 30 and June 3
- Pinksteren (Pentecoste): 10 days after Ascension Day