Each country has its own traditions and celebrations. In the United States of America, everyone celebrates the Fourth of July to commemorate America’s freedom and independence from their former British rulers. In the Netherlands, King's Day is of similar caliber: it’s one of the most popular celebrations of the year.
What is King's Day in the Netherlands?
King's Day, known as Koningsdag in Dutch, is a national holiday set aside to celebrate the birthday of the King of the Netherlands. The Netherlands is a constitutional monarchy, which means that the King serves alongside the democratically elected government. The current King of the Netherlands is King Willem Alexander.
When is King's Day in the Netherlands?
Currently, King's Day is celebrated on April 27th as that is the King’s birthday. But the date and name of the holiday have changed over the years in accordance with the monarch seated at the throne.
The tradition of King's Day originally was introduced as Princess’ Day to celebrate Princess Wilhelmina’s fifth birthday on 31 August 1885. The celebration consisted of a feast, children’s games, and decorating the streets. After her father’s death, Princess Wilhelmina became Queen in November 1890. The following year, in 1891, the holiday became known as Queen’s Day, or koninginnedag in Dutch. When Wilhelmina’s daughter Juliana followed in her footsteps and became Queen, the date of Queen’s Day was changed to April 30th in honor of her own birthday.
When Queen Beatrix took over the throne from her mother, she kept the date despite her own birth date falling in January. Queen Beatrix also started her own tradition by traveling with her family around the country to visit several Dutch towns and join in with the locals and their festivities.
Finally, when King Willem Alexander took the throne, it became King's Day. While King Willem changed the date to April 27th in honor of his own birthday, he continues the tradition set by his mother, Queen Beatrix, and travels to several towns in celebration each year.
What Colors Do You Wear for King's Day?
The color to wear on King's Day is orange.
Everyone dresses up from head to toe in orange to celebrate King's Day. Some people go as far as dying their hair and painting their faces in a bright shade of orange. Don’t be surprised if you see a few orange pups that day too – people will even dress up their pets in celebration of King's Day. The Dutch call this orange frenzy ‘orange madness’ or ‘oranjegekte.’
Even though the flag of the Netherlands is red, white, and blue, the color orange is truly the color that represents the Netherlands.
King William of Orange is considered the founding father of the Netherlands, and his royal line of descendants is known as the “House of Oranje.” Because of this, the color orange was adopted by the people of the Netherlands. It is widely considered the official color of the Netherlands.
How Do Dutchies Celebrate King's Day?
By partying hard, of course! The celebration of King's Day begins the day before the official holiday (also known as King's Day Eve). Everyone starts the celebration that evening at their favorite bars and restaurants already decked out in orange.
On the day of King's Day, the party continues. In addition to parades of boats sailing through the canals, music blasting on every corner, celebratory Heinekens being popped at parks throughout the country, and friends gathering in the sunshine, all schools and businesses are closed and unofficial flea markets pop up all over town.
These flea markets, also known as free markets, are called ‘vrijmarkt’ in Dutch. King's Day is the only day of the year that people don’t need permits to sell products. It's also the only day of the year where's no requirement to collect or remit sales tax.
Naturally, this leads to a plethora of vendors selling all kinds of items, including unwanted possessions, furniture, handmade goods, and much more. People also offer music and other entertainment for sale. In Utrecht, the flea markets start as early as King's Day Eve and go through the night and well into the next day.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, people altered their flea market plans by selling items online to avoid physical contact. This flea market spree is a great place to find unique treasures and interesting trinkets. The average vendor makes about £90 on King's Day.
As with most celebrations, a toast is required. Unlike most celebrations around the world, the King is toasted with oranjebitter, or Orange Bitter in English, instead of champagne. Orange bitter is a bright orange liqueur created in 1620 to celebrate Prince Frederick Henry’s victory. The beverage was popularized once King William of Orange was crowned, and it has since been closely associated with the Dutch royal family.
Fun Facts About King's Day in Amsterdam
Amsterdam’s population swells by 600,000 (up to one million) visitors on King's Day every year. People travel from all over the world to join in on the festivities and experience King's Day in the most authentic manner. Amsterdam offers a particularly diverse array of events on King's Day, including an outdoor concert on the Museumplein. This concert often draws a crowd as large as 800,000 people.
Food vendors line the streets with all of their delicacies on King’s Day. One of the most popular treats is tompouce, a sweet pastry loaded with cream. In true King's Day fashion, they decorate the pastries with orange icing. Sales of tompouce increase by 600% on King's Day.
The museums are open on King's Day. Some of Amsterdam’s most notable museums include the Van Gogh Museum, the Rijksmuseum, the Stedelijk Museum, and the Anne Frank House.
The King himself.
King Willem Alexander is the first male monarch that the Netherlands has had in over one hundred and twenty-three years. He inherited the throne from his mother before him.
King's Day is by far the biggest birthday party in the Netherlands (potentially the world!), and people travel from far and wide to take part in the celebration. Throw on your favorite orange outfit, toast the King with orange bitter, and enjoy a day of shopping for treasure at the country-wide flea market. This is not a party that you want to miss.