Een oranje zee - Koningsdag en Nationale eenheid

Starting at 9 outside my apartment, the music bumped and people clad in orange streamed through the street: full orange suits, bizarre hats, boas tossed around people’s necks. Koningsdag had arrived, in style and to the beat of the Netherlands’ much-loved DJs. 

Opting for a bit of a less raucous experience, my friends and I headed to the Vrijmarkt in search of unnecessary treasures. Beers in hand, we navigated our way through the heaps of clothing, trinkets, and household items on big blankets. Kids often had their own stands next to their parents where they hustled to get rid of those pesky old toys they had outgrown and make some money so they could head to their neighbours to buy that coveted book or game. One kid had picked up on the deep call of the Dutch market and was deftly practicing his “50 cent” chant for his teddy bear. 

I learned in my research on the Vrijmarkt that ING predicts that around 300 million euros worth of wares are sold each Koningsdag. That’s a lot of 50 cent teddy bears.

As an American, the idea of celebrating an Monarch’s birthday is acutely foreign. My home country celebrates our Declaration of Independence— the moment in which we eliminated control of a monarchy over our country. 

Many people I spoke with described Koningsdag as a moment where Dutch people can drop their differences to celebrate their uniting orange. Indeed, that is exactly what it was meant to do. The Dutch government was faced with an unpopular monarchy in the late 1800s and so King Willem III decided that he would use his four year old daughter’s birthday as a way to engender patriotic celebration and unity. The monarchy also hoped that such nationalism would also help Dutch citizens become more “civilized." Thus started Prinsessedag. And Koninginnedag and Koningsdag have followed to continue the tradition of patriotic pride. 

I enjoyed the festivities, the revelry, and of course the Vrijmarkt where I got a vase that now is holding tulips in my living room. It also was a moment to reflect upon the different evolutions of tradition and histories of these two countries I call home. The celebrations are in some ways very similar— holiday with music and patriotism. But while the US celebrates its overthrow of a monarchy as a form of patriotism, Koningsdag was originally initiated as a way to instill patriotism by utilizing the reigning family. 

Tags: koningsdag