The theme of this third annual World Blog Surf Day is Holidays and Celebrations, in which expats from around the world write on the same theme, exploring some of the new holidays and traditions they (we) have been exposed to in our new countries. At first I was a bit lost on what to write about, since the Netherlands isn’t exactly drastically different from the US. Sure, I could write about Sinterklaas on December 5, but I felt like I would have to address the whole issue of Zwarte Piet, but I’ve yet to be able to put my thoughts on it into words without contradicting myself somewhere along the line. Fortunately, Giovanni came to the rescue with the quite obvious and fantastic suggestion of writing about Koninginnedag, otherwise known as Queen’s Day.
Koninginnedag is held April 30 each year and has become a national holiday. The origins of the day, however, go back to August 31, 1885. It started as a celebration of the birthday of Princess Wilhelmina, and was known as Prinsessedag until her coronation in 1890. When Queen Wilhelmina’s daughter, Queen Juliana, took the thrown, the date of the celebration changed to her birthday, April 30. When our current queen, Queen Beatrix, took the throne, she decided to keep Koninginnedag celebrations on April 30, both as a tribute to her mother and as a sensible move since the weather is much better than on her own birthday of January 31.
Besides the sea of orange that overtakes the country — the Dutch royal family comes from the House of Orange — the most traditional form of celebration is the vrijmarkt, essentially citywide flea markets. Whole sections of towns are taken over by stalls of all sorts, ranging from full set-ups to blankets on the ground, as people sell their various odds and ends. Most are normal household items, although a few people take the opportunity to sell various arts and crafts. There are also food stalls of all sorts set up amid all of the household bits and pieces. Here in the Utrecht city center, the whole northern section of the city was given over to the vrijmarkt.
The whole day is one of festivities and fun, with many people taking their boats out to sail along the canals with friends, often greeting and meeting up with other boaters along the way. Some of the boats themselves take on new forms as adventurous people strap together multiple boats and pile on sofas and stereos to make the most of the outing!
This was my first Koninginnedag, as we moved here last year just after the celebration. We had heard all about it — including the Koninginnenacht celebrations at the bars the night before — and were looking forward to taking part in the festivities. A friend of mine from the US happened to be in town, as well, so things were looking to be quite exciting. In fact, it was all quite exciting, but not always in such a good way. Koninginnedag 2009 was sadly marred by an attempted attack on the royal family as they were heading to the palace in Apeldorn. After a morning spent meeting people and taking part in various fun and games, as is the family’s tradition, they were headed by bus to the Het Loo palace when suddenly a car came out of nowhere, running over people in the crowd, before crashing into a nearby monument. The royal family was unharmed, but sadly eight people lost their life. My friend and I happened to be watching the tv coverage of the royal family’s outing that morning before heading out — it has been broadcast since the 1950s — and so we saw the attack in real time and were left confused and then horrified by it.
Many of the public festivities were cancelled, obviously, although the vrijmarkt continued, as did many private celebrations. In fact, many people didn’t know about the tragedy until much later in the day. My friend and I did visit the vrijmarkt that afternoon and enjoyed the experience; I even bought a few odds and ends, including a Queen Wilhelmina mints tin. Still, the tragedy of the morning lingered in my mind. Hardly an auspicious introduction to what should be a joyful day of fun and friends.
When I decided to write about Queen’s Day, I couldn’t decide if I should mention the dark side of this year’s event. Yet, considering it’s been my only Queen’s Day, I suppose it’s almost impossible for me to write about this new holiday without mentioning it. Ultimately, I still had a wonderful time, meeting up with lots of friends the night before, making fond memories that help to counteract the not-so-fond memories. There was also a lot of happiness and friendliness as we wandered the vrijmarkt that afternoon. Fortunately, I also have many more Queen’s Days to come. Who knows, within a few years I might be selling some of our odds and ends on a blanket some April 30! But not my peppermints tin. I’m keeping that one.
Don’t forget to visit Lily over at Fat Bride Slim for the next installment of the Expat World Blog Surf Day!
The event is also being covered on Twitter by Karen of Empty Nest Expat. Karen is an American expat blogger last seen in Prague. The Wall Street Journal said, “Her blog makes a fun read for anyone looking for reassurance that change can be a wonderful thing–and also for anyone interested in visiting the Czech Republic.”