The Dutch have a word for it: Gezellig, which means upbeat or with a pleasant, friendly ambience. And they certainly have a whole day for it: April 27 is Koningsdag, or King’s Day, a national holiday to celebrate the birthday of the ruling monarch, Willem-Alexander. But it’s really a whole lot more. If you’re expecting parades, you’d be right, but not in military regalia or with horse-mounted police. No, instead it’s just thousands upon thousands of people, most turned out in orange, the color of the royal family and all their national teams, out in the streets having a good time.
The centre of Amsterdam is cordoned off for traffic; everyone is on foot enjoying the day. There are concerts, pub crawls, deals on meals, and the biggest simultaneous flea market across the whole country — for one day of the year, the Dutch government allows anyone and everyone to put up a stall without a permit and without paying tax on sales.
The Heart of it
Believe it or not, Koningsdag (pronounced Kyonings-daax) was actually celebrated as Princess’s day and Queen’s day until 2014, because all the previous rulers of the Netherlands have been women. King Willem-Alexander, or Willem-Lex as he’s called, is the first king of the Netherlands in 123 years.
If you’re wondering, the Netherlands is kind of like the UK. The country runs on a parliamentary democracy, but there is also a constitutional monarchy ruling the country, so to speak.
But, don’t for a minute think that this day is about patriotism or pride in which county your family originates from; it’s about belonging, oneness, and simply feeling Dutch. It’s about wearing orange and participating as a gestalt, a whole community that celebrates its unity even in its diversity. Everyone is welcome to celebrate and join in the festivities — long-time residents, recent immigrants still learning Dutch, or visitors.
You’ll see that people of every race, creed, color, orientation out there. Some even dye their hair orange to show their feeling of belonging.
Wherever in the country you go, you’re bound to get caught up in the festivities. Every square in every village and town has some celebration going on.
In Rotterdam, the Erasmus Bridge is lit up orange and even the fountain at Hofplein is running with orange water.
Each year, the king, Willem-Alexander along with his queen, Máxima, visit a different city. This year, it’s Groningen’s turn and there will be a parade as well as a host of festivities.
Utrech has one of the few flea markets that go all night long.
If you’re heading to Amsterdam, be sure to catch the concerts in museumplein as well as the fun rides in all the canal boats. Don’t miss the kids’ areas where children set up stalls, selling their old toys and often receiving more money than they’re asking for!
The party starts on the eve of King’s Day and — if you even end up going home — picks back up at 06:00 hours on the 27th.
Go on, get your gezellig on!
When: April 27, 2018
Where: All across the Netherlands, but particularly in Amsterdam. Utrecht has a night flea market if that’s your jam.
Plan your trip: Each city has its own King’s Day website up with maps and a calendar of events online.
#Pro-tip: Look for “tompouce” — a cream-pastry that is made orange especially for the day!
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