Travel: Why not celebrate King’s Day the Dutch way?

King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima will truly be the centre of attention at Holland's first ever King's Day on April 26. Picture: AWKing Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima will truly be the centre of attention at Holland's first ever King's Day on April 26. Picture: AW
King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima will truly be the centre of attention at Holland's first ever King's Day on April 26. Picture: AW
By Alan Wooding

Having twice enjoyed the spectacle that used to be Queen’s Day in London’s Trafalgar Square, Alan Wooding takes a look ahead to King’s Day later this month for what is easily the biggest national event in The Netherlands when everything, and everyone, turns orange.

Sadly the London event is no more. There used to be around 70,000 ex-pat Dutch letting their hair down at Queen’s Day while enjoying a great party atmosphere beneath Nelson’s column.

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But as Holland now has a ruling male monarch for the since time since the event’s inception in 1949, it’s been renamed King’s Day, although there will still be a few Dutch nationals celebrating at private parties here in Britain and you can expect to see quite a few dressed in orange in and around the London area.

Across the North Sea in The Netherlands, King’s Day will be celebrated for the first time ever. Musical events, colourful fairs, flea markets and parties will take place throughout the country while Holland’s Royal family – King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima and their three daughters – are set go on tour and be received by several Dutch towns and cities for an entertainment-filled day.

Amsterdam will be transformed into the nation’s biggest orange party town while The Hague has Koningsnach, or King’s Night, with dozens of music performances in the city centre. Meanwhile Utrecht, the country’s third largest city, can boast easily the biggest flea market in all of Holland.

Traditionally since 1949, the biggest ‘Orange Fest’ of the year was known as Queen’s Day and was held on April 30 to mark the birthday of Holland’s former Queen Juliana.

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However this year as the Dutch now have King Willem-Alexander (whose birthday is actually on April 27) following the abdication of his mother Queen Beatrix last April, the 2014 event is set to take place 24 hours earlier on Saturday, April 26 to enable everyone to make the most of the whole weekend.

King’s Day is one of the most spectacular holidays of the year in Holland. Prior to 1949, Queen’s Day was celebrated on August 31, the birthday of Queen Wilhelmina. However from 2014 onwards, the Dutch are set to celebrate King’s Day on April 27 … as long as it doesn’t fall on a Sunday!

Even before the first Queen’s Day celebrations, the nation celebrated Princess’ Day on August 31, 1885. It was the initiative of the editor-in-chief of a liberal Dutch newspaper who wanted to emphasise national unity.

When Princess Beatrix succeeded her mother in 1980, the nation continued to celebrate Queen’s Day on April 30. This was decided at the time of the investiture, in part because Beatrix wished to honour her mother and in another part because her own birthday on January 31. She soon realised that it was not the most auspicious day for a holiday or for celebrations outdoors on a cold Dutch winter’s day so it was changed.

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So what will His Majesty King Willem-Alexander be doing on his special day?

When Queen Juliana reigned there was a procession with thousands of Dutch people walking past the steps of the Soestdijk Palace to lay down flowers to cover the entrance.

But things changed when Beatrix became queen. She joined the people and visited several towns or cities in a specific province each year. She was always accompanied by many members of her family and the royals were treated to a broad range of folklore activities … and now Willem-Alexander has promised to preserve that wonderful tradition.

Children sing special songs, people demonstrate old dances and crafts and the royal family is happy to join in. The family visits new cities or towns each year so if you want to know where to find the King and his family this April, you should ask in advance.

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On the day, the Dutch traditionally like to drink a glass of Oranjebitter – although they’re quite partial to enjoying that particular tipple at any other festivities relating to the royal family!

Oranjebitter is a special beverage that stems from an Orange liqueur that was created in 1620 to celebrate several battles in which Frederick Henry, Prince of Orange, was victorious.

The liqueur, which is orange – of course! – is made with Beerenburger. This is a savoury alcoholic beverage made from juniper, laurel berries and liquorice root. Orange peels and malt gin are then added and the Oranjebitter is finally ready after ripening for several months.

However today the Dutch people are not as charmed by the liqueur’s bitter taste as they used to be and generally they like to add some sugar to the glass before drinking it. Iit’s also often served mixed with 7-Up or orange juice although on King’s Day you are supposed to drink it pure and toast to the monarch’s health, naturally!

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If you find yourself in Amsterdam on King’s Day, I absolutely recommend visiting the Vondelpark. While most of the parties in the city itself start after midday, the park fills with children’s laughter earlier in the day.

The beautiful Vondelpark is reserved mainly for the children. They gather in great numbers, hoping to sell their old toys and games. Even more entertaining are the many children performing in the park. Truly, the Vondelpark is transformed into the most original attraction park in Holland for the day.

Children playing the violin or guitar, applying theatre makeup, performing plays, playing games... You will find that they conceive of the most original attractions and activities to draw an audience.

And you’ll be surprised at the many talents performing at the park. The children also imagine the craziest new games in which you can participate for 50 cents or a euro. The much-loved Vondelpark is within easy walking distance from Leidseplein Square.

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For the adults, the Jordaan and Wallen districts and the Nieuwmarkt and other big squares are the best place for big street parties. Locals and cafés have music and drinks in the street, so you can walk from one street party to the next.

The canals also offer a lot of entertainment. With countless boats, usually filled to the brim with music and dancing people, sailing by for a huge spectacle.

So if you are planning to visit Amsterdam, then we would definitely advise being there on April 26 … but make sure to arrange your hotel in advance!

> This year, The Netherlands is also celebrating having a 200-year old Kingdom and Royal Delft is marking this historical occasion with a specially designed, limited edition, hand painted plate.

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The plate adds to a collection of royal commemorative plates that have been produced for various occasions over the centuries. It was designed by master painter Simon van Oosten and has the Dutch coat of arms in the centre, surrounded by all kings and queens and their periods of reign. The orange apples that are depicted symbolise the Dutch Royal family.

There will be just 100 plates made and as is tradition at Royal Delft, the first plate is presented to the Royal family as a gift.

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