by Claudette Kulkarni
May is always a very disorienting month in the Netherlands; it is strung together from bank holidays and festive occasions. The sense of fragmentation is only increased because the day before May begins is Queen’s Day (see the previous blog post for more information on that). Let’s have a run-down of what has occupied the Netherlands over the first half of May – and of what is yet to come.
May 4th: Remembrance Day (Dodenherdenking)
The Royal family and the country’s foremost politicians – representatives of the government – as well as members of the military and veterans of WW II, survivors from the war and their relatives gather at Dam Square for a ceremony dedicated to the sacrifices that were brought by many in the period of 1940 - 1945. The only part of this ceremony that the whole country joins in with is the two minutes’ silence, which begin at 8 PM. This moment of commemoration is followed by the Dutch National Anthem – the Wilhelmus, though not in its entirety; it boasts a grand total of 15 (!) verses, which form an acrostic (in its original version the first letters of each verse spelled the name “Willem van Nassov”). The Wilhelmus is, incidentally, the oldest complete national anthem in the world (it was composed between 1568 and 1572); by complete I mean being comprised of both music and lyrics. The Queen and Crown Prince place a wreath at the monument prior to the silent remembrance, the other dignitaries place theirs after. This year’s Remembrance Day was rudely interrupted by a man in the crowd shouting loudly, causing panic and resulting in several people being hurt when pushed against the crush barriers, which proceeded to fall over. The Royal family was brought to safety, only to return a few minutes later, with the queen looking very defiant indeed.
May 5th: Liberation Day (Bevrijdingsdag)
Liberation Day is celebrated as the day the Netherlands was liberated from German occupation. It is not the same as V Day, which is celebrated on 8 May – the day that Germany capitulated. Of course it is important to remember that the Second World War only really ended when Japan capitulated on 15 August 1945. On the 5th of May, the celebrations tend to mimic those of Queen’s Day: there are many open air events, music festivals, street markets, and much in the way of good food and drink. This day is not automatically a free day for working Holland. Whether or not employees get the day off is laid down in the various collective employment agreements; in cases where it hasn’t been, the issue is left for the employers and companies to agree upon with their respective employees. The (central) government does give its staff and officials the day off.
Sunday, May 13th: Mother’s Day (Moederdag)
Okay, so this day does not impact the work week, but it is a celebration and many people take it pretty seriously. It is celebrated on the second Sunday of May. There is a boost in sales due to Mother’s Day gifts, and there is a great increase in the sale of flowers. Mothers the country over get breakfast in bed, presents from their children and often their husbands too, and get to spend the day doing whatever they want all day long... oh wait, never mind. There is also a Father’s Day, which is celebrated on the third Sunday of June.
May 17th: Ascension Day (Hemelvaart)
Ascensionis Domini – the official Latin for Ascension Day. This day is a Roman-Catholic holiday commemorating Jesus’s ascension to heaven forty days after his resurrection. The day has traditionally been celebrated as a bank holiday in the Netherlands, though not everywhere; businesses mostly close, except for many in the financial sector, as the stock markets also don’t close on Ascension Day. Shops in the smaller towns and villages are usually closed, though in the big cities (Rotterdam, Amsterdam, etc.) they remain open, as do wholesale outlets.
Monday, May 28th: Pentecost (Pinksteren – second day)
Pentecost is another Roman-Catholic holiday and is celebrated on the fiftieth day after Easter and ten days after Ascension Day. Officially Pentecost is only one day, but in the Netherlands at least an extra bank holiday has been added to the holiday itself, i.e. the Monday following the Sunday of Pentecost; this day is celebrated as a bank holiday. The celebration of this day in the Netherlands goes back all the way to the Middle Ages, when it was celebrated as a spring festival. The festival’s name comes from its celebrating the “pinksterbloem” (lady’s smock), though interestingly the flower at the centre of this festival was in fact not lady’s smock, but rather it was cow’s parsley (Dutch: fluitenkruid). One of the traditions of this festival was for the fairest maiden in each village to be crowned “Pinksterbloem”. The famous music festival Pinkpop finds its origins in this holiday; the name is an amalgamation of the Dutch Pinksteren (Pentecost) and popfestival (popular music festival). It was first held in 1970 in Geleen (Limburg) and these days is held in Landgraaf. This year Pinkpop will not be held on Pentecost, but rather on 28 through 30 May. More information on the programme and the acts performing this year can be found on the website. Most of the Netherlands celebrates two days of Pentecost, but in the Zaanstreek (the region surrounding Zaanstad), a third day of Pentecost is celebrated, ostensibly to celebrate its liberation from the Spanish in 1578 – it had been occupied since 1573.
Finally, the royal family celebrates two birthdays this month: Princess Maxima’s – Crown Prince Willem-Alexander’s wife – on the 17th, and Princess Laurentien’s – the wife of Prince Constantijn, Queen Beatrix’s third and youngest son – on the 25th. These days are not national holidays.
Taking all this into account, I think it is safe to say that May is the Netherlands’ most festive month. Enjoy!