Why the Dutch shouldn’t stop celebrating Queen’s Day
May 26, 2009 1 Comment
When I told my Dutch friends that a Romanian friend of mine would be visiting the Netherlands on the 30th of April, they all asked me whether he was coming especially for Queen’s Day. Until that point, I had not been aware of the amplitude of this event.
As I was about to find out, Queen’s Day is considered by many Dutch as the most important celebration of the year, comparable to Mardi Gras in New Orleans. The entire country flocks outdoors, young and old, Dutch and tourists alike. The atmosphere can become a bit crowded, but doesn’t lose any of its charm.
Celebrating Queen’s Day in Maastricht
One of the interesting aspects related to this holiday is the fact that the current Dutch Queen Beatrix decided to continue celebrating Queen’s Day on the date of her mother Queen Juliana’s birthday on 30 April, instead of on her own birthday on January 31, because the weather in April is more suitable for outdoor festivities.
Up until now, all I knew about Queen’s Day in the Netherlands was based on news reports I had seen on television abroad. This year I had the chance to experience it first hand and it is without a doubt one of the most impressive public holidays that I have witnessed. Although I was in Maastricht during Carnival earlier this year, it doesn’t really compare with Queen’s Day because first, Carnival is only celebrated in the south of the country, whereas Queen’s Day is a nation wide holiday, and second, Carnival has a certain kind of “party-till-you-drop” atmosphere, whereas Queen’s Day is synonymous with quality time with family and friends. One of the main highlights of the day are the wide flea markets, or Vrijmarkt in Dutch, that are organised in almost every city across the country.
Amsterdam or Maastricht?
Amsterdam, Rotterdam and other similar urban conglomerates have a thick history of throwing marvelous events on Queen’s Day. In Amsterdam, the Museumplein and Rembrantplein are known for hosting huge outdoor parties with famous music bands and DJs. My Danish friend Anja Krabbe Thomns, who studies in Amsterdam, told me that the amount of the activities taking place in the capital city during Queen’s Day is simply unheard of. Internet guides confirm her impression: “Queen’s Day is a public holiday but certainly not a day of rest.”
Although my Dutch friends had recommended me to go and experience the full extent of the public celebrations in Amsterdam, I stayed in Maastricht because I had promised my Romanian friend to show him the magic of the city I’m living in.
As it turned out, I was happy to witness how Queen’s Day is celebrated in a smaller community. The weather was lovely, sunny and just a bit breezy, the perfect setting for outdoor activities.
Bouke, one of my Dutch housemates, who is from Utrecht, had told me that Queen’s Day is usually a much awaited holiday by children, because it is a time when they can sell their old toys at the flea market. Interestingly, the specificity of Queen’s Day flea markets is that on that particular day, trade is unregulated, making it possible for anyone to set up a garage sale to get rid of old household stuff. A funny tradition of the flea market is supposed to be the practice of reverse bargaining, when the seller is ready to give away his merchandise for free and the buyer is supposed to act contrarily, and raise the price. Though I would have been amused to take part in such funny negotiations, I did my purchases the regular way.
At the flea market I picked up a chat with Daan and Nienke, two adorable little blond brother and sister, and their mother, Pascalle, who told me: “We used to live in Maastricht, but then we moved to the suburbs. This is our second year at the flea market in Maastricht, selling toys, kitchen stuff, CDs, videos and clothes”. Nienke was in charge of selling pancakes with her dad. I wanted to get myself some as well, but they were so popular that they disappeared in the blink of an eye.
Daan and Nienke selling pancakes during Queen’s Day
As in previous years, the main flea market in Maastricht was held in the city park (Stadspark). Sponsored by Heineken – “Your day is Orange at Heineken Queensday Maastricht”- the festivities included music bands and DJs such as Pioneers of Love and Nothing but Funk.
Never in my life have I seen such an orange crowd before, and I’m not only referring to the colour of the clothes that many people had chosen to wear that day, for I also spotted children with orange dyed hair and even pets adorned with orange accessories. As a proof of our respect for Dutch traditions I also decided to complete my outfit with an orange scarf, while another friend opted for an orange skirt. Still, the orange inflatable crowns were in my opinion by far the most inspiring ornaments of the festivities, as they successfully symbolised the Dutch Orange monarchy in a joyful and funny way.
Queen’s Day Flea market
The flea market offered a wide selection of objects for sale: clothing items, toys, technological gadgets, homemade cakes, paintings or jewelry, but from my perspective, the most interesting pieces on display at the Stadspark vrijmarkt were the antiquities. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that antiquities hunters wake up very early in the morning on Queen’s Day to go and check the flea market in search for valuable items.
Not all the objects on sale at the flea market were old, or second hand. Some entrepreneurs also sold their products with special discounts, in order to stay competitive. One of these entrepreneurs was Frederik, a Belgian jeweler who opened his own creation studio seven years ago. After spending some time in Colombia, where he met his wife, Frederik found the material for his jewels: macramé, seeds and minerals. “Everything inspires me”, said Frederik. “Even here, the colours are an inspiration,” he added, referring to the multitude of colours present at the flea market.
Frederik and his wife
Raising funds for Cliniclowns , an organisation aiming at bringing a smile on the faces of children in hospitals.
As for myself, I made some very good finds: a few cheap but original CDs, some vintage jewelry and lots of coloured pins. I enjoyed the relaxed and joyful atmosphere, and what I especially liked about Queen’s Day in Maastricht is that it was a day for the family. Whether it was about children playing at inviting people to throw two eggs at their heads for EUR 1 or parents sitting in the grass and listening to live music, Queen’s Day was a success.
Egg game, Queen’s Day Maastricht
Statement by Her Majesty the Queen
“’What began as a beautiful day ended in a terrible tragedy that shocked us all deeply. People who were there, those who saw the incident on television, anyone who witnessed it could only look on in stunned disbelief. We are left speechless at the idea that such a terrible thing could happen. My family and I, and I think everyone in the country, feel deeply for the victims, their families and friends, and all those who were affected by this incident.”
The incident mentioned by the Queen in a televised speech to the nation that evening was an attack that day on the royal family in the city of Apeldoorn, when a man drove his car at high speed into the crowd watching the royal parade, leaving eight dead and nine injured.
The motive of the attacker still remains unclear but close investigation soon determined that it was not an act of terrorism.
Queen’s Day must continue
A wave of shock hit the entire country after the incident. Birgit and Jelle, two Dutch students from Maastricht couldn’t understand why it happened: “What kind of lunatic would do that?”, 22 year old Birgit asked herself.
I must admit that I shared every bit of her fear. Even if it is not related, this incident reminded me of another tragic episode in recent history, namely the 9/11 attacks, and one thing leading to another, made me realise just how fragile, exposed and unsafe we really are, whether from a terrorist attack or the irresponsible act of an individual.
However, in spite of all the public concern triggered by the attack on the Royal family, I believe that it would not be a good idea for the Dutch to stop celebrating Queen’s Day. This would not bring about any extra safety, and would only translate fear.
On the contrary, by continuing to celebrate their most important holiday, the Dutch would show how strongly they believe in their traditions and mostly in the foundation of Dutch society. It is my opinion that future Queen’s Day celebrations should not be restricted in the light of this year’s incident for the sake of a superficial sense of security.
It is only by continuing to practice our beliefs and traditions without giving in to fear that we will truly be safe.
By Catalina Goanta
Catalina Goanta, a Master Student from Romania at the Law faculty in Maastricht, is fascinated by the biorhythm of Maastricht.