It is that time of the year again: King’s Day (‘Koningsdag’) You might have seen some crazy pictures or have heard some interesting stories about the Dutch during this festive day. But what exactly is King’s Day and why do we celebrate it?
The King in the Netherlands
In the Netherlands we have what is called a ‘constitutional monarchy’. That means that the position of the monarch is anchored in the constitution. The King of the Netherlands, Willem Alexander, is the head of the Dutch state and he and the ministers together form the government. However, the role of the king does not carry political power; it is mostly a ceremonial function. That is because the Netherlands has a parliamentary system, which means that Parliament makes political decisions.
“You will see orange clothing, orange flags, orange wigs, orange makeup and basically orange everything.”
The history of King’s Day
In 1885 the Netherlands celebrated the fifth birthday or princess Wilhelmina and named this day Princess-day (“Prinsessendag”). The celebration was an initiative of the liberal parties, who wanted to emphasize the unity of the nation. When Wilhelmina became queen Princess-day became Queensday (“Koninginnedag”). Queen Juliana introduced a new way to celebrating Queensday, where she and her family would take place on the terrace of the palace and the Dutch people would form an insanely long line to bring them flowers and gifts. Queen Beatrix later decided that it was better to go to the people and made the day what it is now. It has been King’s Day since 2014 and is celebrated on the 27th of April, which is the King’s birthday.
King’s Day = orange
If you think the Dutch are well dressed, celebrating King’s Day might change your mind. The Dutch Royal family has the name ‘van Oranje’, which translates to ‘of Orange’. This is why everyone, and with everyone we really mean everyone, is dressed in orange during King’s Day. You will see orange clothing, orange flags, orange wigs, orange makeup and basically orange everything. Even the streets will all be decorated in orange. It has been estimated that almost 100 million is spent every year in the Netherlands on orange items for the festival.
“In the early morning the city transforms into one big open air market”
That the Dutch are a real trading nation is very evident during King’s Day. It is the time to sell everything from the attic, or to earn money by performing. In the early morning you will see the city transform into one big open air market where everyone is allowed to be a merchant for a day - including children. The flea markets are always a lot of fun to visit and one of the highlights of King’s Day.
One of the best things about King’s Day is the music. During King’s Day there are many stages throughout the city center. The best part? You can visit these outdoor performances for free. In Groningen the biggest stage can be found at the Vismarkt. If you are looking for bigger festivals, there are also some paid options. One of them is the Kingsland festival in the Stadspark, which is held annually in multiple cities.
“Party at one of the many free stages in the city center, or go to a festival”
Although there is not really a traditional King’s Day meal or snack, many people eat a tompouce on this day. The icing is normally pink, but around King’s Day the top layer of the tompouce is, you might have guessed it, orange. It is said that the sales of tompouces are 600% higher during King’s Day.
The Dutch wouldn’t be the Dutch if they hadn’t found a way to extend the party. Since King’s Day is a national holiday where everyone has a day off, the Dutch decided to already start the festivities the night before. During King’s Night (“Koningsnacht”) you can party at one of the many free stages in the city center, or go to a festival.
So: time to put on some orange and come and celebrate! If you are curious about the programme for King’s Day in Groningen, have a look at this article from City Central for a list of fun activities.