A Guide to Dutch Holidays (and why you shouldn't blast music through open windows at 8pm on May 4th)
The Dutch have seven national and public holidays throughout the year, with most of them linked to a Christian event and some of them coming with a specific set of ‘to dos’. On these holidays, pretty much everyone (with the exception of some staff in healthcare, blue light services, etc.) has the day off.
Important to say though that if any of these holidays falls on a weekend then you miss out on a day off from work. It's not like in other countries where you get given the nearest working day off as the holiday instead.
New Year’s Day - January 1
I don’t think I need to explain this. Party all through the night as everyone else will – most likely – be doing the same.
Easter - two days between between 22 March and 25 April (always a Sunday and a Monday)
Easter will start on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the ‘spring equinox’. No worries, no Dutch person will be able to tell you when ‘the first spring equinox’ is or even what it is. During Easter, Christians remember Jesus who died on the cross for our sins. It’s mainly a family orientated event.
Kings Day (Koningsdag) - April 27
The day we celebrate the King or Queen’s birthday – so the date changes when we get a new monarch. Our previous Queen celebrated Queen’s Day on her mother’s birthday (April 30th) as her birthday in January wasn’t a good day to celebrate weather-wise. In 2013, King Willem-Alexander took to the throne and since then we’ve celebrated King’s Day on April 27th.
DO: Make sure to wear an orange outfit and check out the flea markets (free trading for everyone today) during the day and the parties during the night.
DON’T: Show up in Amsterdam dressed in orange on April 30th, or you’ll end up on twitter and the news.
Remembrance Day - May 4
Ok, so this one isn’t a day off but it is of no lesser importance! Between 8pm and 8.02pm, the entire country will come to a standstill as we take this pause to remember the cruelties of WWII and also the people who liberated us. There won’t even be planes landing or taking off from Schiphol during these two minutes; trains will stop completely, even mid-journey between stations; cars and trucks will pull over on the side of the road or motorway; shops will close; and often food delivery guys will get off their bike (with your pizza going cold on the back!) and stand next to it. Every city, town or village will host a remembrance event, usually with veterans, the mayor and boy scouts. After the collective two minutes’ silence, flowers and wreaths are laid at the war monuments.
DO: Take part - everyone is invited to join. In Zwolle, the war monument and commemoration event is in Ter Pelkwijkpark. Make sure to show up before 8pm and it will finish around 8.15pm.
DON’T: Be loud or play loud music between 8.00 and 8.02pm. Remembrance Day is still a widely participated event with most Dutch people joining in. People will take offence to obtrusive noise during this important period of reflection and solemnity.
Liberation Day - May 5
After remembering the Second World War, it is now time to celebrate what we have: FREEDOM. This is not a given, even in today's world, so we should cherish this. Zwolle hosts one of the biggest parties in the country with the ‘Bevrijdingsfestival’: music, lectures, food and drinks. Every five years May 5 will be a day off and the next time this will happen is in 2020.
DON’T: take freedom for granted
Ascension Day (Hemelvaartsdag) - the 40th day after Easter (always a Thursday)
Ascension Day in the Netherlands marks the time when Jesus ascended to heaven for the final time following his crucifixion and resurrection. No particular events, but you can have a lay-in.
Pentecost & Whit Monday (Pinksterdag) - the 50th day after Easter (always a Sunday and Monday)
“WHAT?” you may ask yourself. Yes, Pentecost is a thing. It commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and other followers of Jesus Christ while they were in Jerusalem celebrating the Feast of Weeks, as described in the Acts of the Apostles. Again: have a lay-in and enjoy your day off.
Sinterklaas - December 5
Be aware: this is not a day off. That doesn’t mean it’s not a ‘thing’ though - it is widely celebrated. Although Sinterklaas seems racist, the main story around it truly isn’t. Sinterklaas is a bishop from Madrid, Spain and gets to the Netherlands by steamship (on the second Saturday in November – expect a parade through town!). He rides a white horse and has lots of little helpers called ‘Zwarte Piet’ (‘Black Pete’) who, unfortunately, are dressed as… black slaves. As Sinterklaas is a white male this makes this tradition very, very awkward, to say the least. Although it's what they might look like, Black Petes are not slaves. They are like Father Christmas's Elves and they enjoy the role they have in this celebration. Being a ‘Black Pete’ is a badge of honour, with many young Dutch schoolchildren getting a ‘Black Pete Certificate’ at school for doing special activities at PE and hoping to get in to ‘Black Pete School’ when they’re older. Zwarte Piet makes jokes and will put a present in your shoe if you leave it near the chimney. (His black complexion comes from climbing up and down chimneys all the time, he’s basically ‘soot stained’). He does this together with Sinterklaas, who will ride his white horse over the steep Dutch roofs while sending his Black Petes down the chimneys.
Sinterklaas celebrates his birthday on December 5 by handing out presents. Never in real life, he’s far too busy. Black Pete will bang on the door and ring the bell, and will be gone when you get to the door. The entire story is based on an actual bishop from Mira, Turkey. That bishop killed children though, instead of giving presents. So it could always be worse!
(Did you know...Coca Cola used Sinterklaas as a ‘blueprint’ for Father Christmas?)
Sinterklaas is big in the Netherlands. His arrival is broadcast live on national television. There is a daily ‘Sinterklaas News’ on national TV too, starting from early November until December 5. More and more people are seeing the racist aspect of this tradition though, with arguments between those who are “for” and those who are “against” Sinterklaas getting very heated. In 2017 protesters (“for”) blocked off an entire motorway to prevent “against” protesters getting to the national arrival of Sinterklaas and making a fuss.
DO: buy pepernoten, gevuld speculaas and other traditional biscuits and sweets. (You can thank me later!)
DON’T: start an argument or get into a debate about Black Pete – it is a very, very tender subject. Don’t get yourself into it.
Christmas - December 25 and 26
The celebration of the birth of Christ. Mainly a family orientated event and very food-based. Two days off.
Comment and let us know what your favourite holiday in the Netherlands is and how you celebrate it...