By Claudette Kulkarni-Van Caubergh
The short version
Queen’s Day is a Dutch bank holiday; a day of open air live performances, street markets, fairs, food and drink and all-round celebration. It’s the day on which we celebrate our queen’s birthday. Only, it’s not her birthday. It’s her mother’s birthday. And when Willem-Alexander becomes king, King’s Day may move up a few days to accomodate his birthday. Then again, since he was only born a few days before Queen’s Day, it might not. In which case King’s Day might still be celebrating his grandmother-the-Queen’s birthday. Confused yet? Read on, and all will become clear...
The long version: whose birthday is it, anyway?
To go back to the roots of Queen’s Day as a national day of celebration, we have to go back about halfway through the history of the Dutch monarchy – our first three monarchs were kings, you see: William I (1813-1840), William II (1840-1849) and, unsurprisingly and somewhat unoriginally, William III (1849-1890). William III’s daughter was the Netherlands’ first queen: Queen Wilhelmina (there’s a distinctly discernible pattern in the names here...).
Queen Wilhelmina came to the throne at age 10, following the death of her father in 1890. Her young age at the time meant that effectively her mother served as regent of the Netherlands until Wilhelmina’s 18th birthday. This period marks the origin of the forerunner of Queen’s Day: Princess Day, which was first celebrated just before Wilhelmina’s reign. It was first celebrated on 31 August 1885 – she was just a five year-old princess at the time.
Princess Day was transformed into Queen’s Day when Wilhelmina succeeded her father in 1890, although it wasn’t celebrated with too much enthusiasm until 1902. Only then did it become a true people’s celebration. Wilhemina had been gravely ill for a time, and it was close to that first Queen’s Day that the people of the Netherlands learned that their Queen had fully recovered. This in itself was cause for celebration, since it meant that the succession was safeguarded. And Queen’s Day offered the perfect festive occasion to rejoice.
Wilhelmina’s daughter, Juliana, came to the throne in 1948. Her birthday was on 30 April and this day was now proclaimed Queen’s Day. (So that’s whose birthday we’re actually celebrating.)
Our current Queen, Beatrix, out of respect for her mother has insisted that Queen’s Day continue to be celebrated on 30 April.
How likely is it that that will change when William-Alexander comes to the throne (he was born on 27 April 1967)? Obviously, I don’t have the answer to that question right now. But the matter will certainly be resolved upon William-Alexander’s succession. It is something to be considered that our crown-prince’s birthday is close enough to Queen’s Day that he might not decide to change the date, but only the name of the holiday.
Then and now
From the time of Queen Juliana’s reign, Queen’s Day was celebrated with a special parade (defilé). The Queen and her family would stand out on the steps of Soestdijk Palace, and a long parade of wellwishers would walk by to congratulate the Queen in person, bringing gifts and flowers. This parade was a Queen’s Day tradition and became embedded in Dutch culture during Queen Juliana’s reign. In fact, one of the Netherlands’ most famous cabaret artists, Wim Sonnevelt, did a famous sketch called “De Opperstalmeester” (The Equerry), in which a member of Her Majesty’s household explains how he instructs the “little people” on how to behave when greeting and congratulating the Queen.
Our current Queen, Queen Beatrix decided to change this tradition and visits a different part of the country each year on Queen’s Day. On the occasion of those visits the towns in question make a real effort to present themselves at their most festive and to become a memorable stop on the Queen’s tour.Another Dutch tradition has Queen’s Day as the one day in the year that street vendors do not require a license to sell their wares in public. For that reason the majority of towns in the Netherlands have street markets on that day, as well as other festivities, such as raffles, open air performances, etc.
A dark shadow - Queen’s Day 2009
Over the years there have been very few incidents on Queen’s Day. 2009's celebration was the sad exception.
During the queen’s visit to Apeldoorn, a black Suzuki Swift drove straight through the crush barriers and into the crowd. It stopped short of hitting the bus carrying the royal family and hit The Needle – an Apeldoorn monument – instead, killing the car’s driver, as well as seven other people. The nearest the police can figure, the man driving the car was making an attempt on the royal family.
The incident made a deep impact on the royal family and the attendees; the rest of the day’s celebrations were either cancelled or cut short.
Go where the fun is!
The big cities have some great things planned for this coming Queen’s Day. Find out more about what there is to do and where you can go to celebrate and enjoy a taste of Dutch tradition by going to the websites of the municipalities of The Hague (www.denhaag.com) and Amsterdam (www.iamsterdam.com).
A final, quick word of advice: in most of the bigger cities, it can be very cumbersome to get around by car on Queen’s Day. It will be advisable to use public transportation, though you should also be warned that PT will be very crowded on this day.