Koningsdag or King’s Day is a national holiday in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Celebrated on 27 April, or the day before if the 27th falls on a Sunday, the day is none other than the date of birth of King Willem-Alexander.
When Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands abdicated in 2013 and her son Willem-Alexander ascended the throne (the first king since the observance of the national holiday), the holiday changed its name from Koninginnedag, or Queen’s Day, to Koningsdag, or King’s Day.
The Koningsdag celebrations are often organised by the orange committees, the so-called Oranjecomité, local associations that seek sponsors and donations for their activities. In recent years, some committees have had difficulty recruiting new members, as the number of young Dutch people interested in the festivities has steadily decreased.
Koningsdag is known for its nationally held vrijmarkt; a vrijmarkt is nothing more than a flea market, where the Dutch have the opportunity to sell their second-hand goods. On King’s Day, the Dutch government allows street sales without the need for a permit and without any obligation to pay concessions or taxes. More than half of the Dutch people buy at the vrijmarkt and about a fifth of the population take to the streets to sell.
Among the most popular areas for vrijmarkt in Amsterdam are undoubtedly the Jordaan district and the wide Apollolaan in front of the Hilton hotel in the south of the city. A special children’s market is organised in the Vondelpark, where the little ones and their parents can sell and buy toys and clothes.
Utrecht’s non-stop vrijmarkt
Until 1996, the vrijmarkt started the evening before the then Queen’s Day and continued for 24 consecutive hours. However, this non-stop market was only maintained in Utrecht; in the other cities of the Netherlands it was decided to end the market during the night to facilitate the preparation of other daytime activities.
During Koningsdag many concerts and events are organised in public spaces, especially in Amsterdam.
One famous concert is the one held on Museumplein, which is attended by around 800,000 people. In Amsterdam, the city centre is closed to cars and no trams run in order to ensure public order due to the large influx of Dutch people and tourists into the city.
The Koningsdag holiday is also the occasion for the oranjegekte, or ‘orange madness’, the colour of the Dutch royal family, the Royal House Orange-Nassau, in which all towns and cities are decorated with orange festoons and people dress up in orange clothes, caught up in the frenzy for this heartfelt national celebration.
Everyone takes to the streets dressed in orange: orange T-shirts, caps or scarves are also sold to tourists in virtually every souvenir shop. The Dutch meanwhile are in the habit of decorating their cars and even their houses in this garish colour.
Koninginnedag or Queen’s Day was a national celebration in the Netherlands in honour of the Queen’s birthday, which fell on 30 April. Since 2013, when Queen Beatrix’s son came to the throne, Queen’s Day has no longer been celebrated, instead, sovereign Wilhelm Alexander of the Netherlands, the first male sovereign since 1890, is celebrated with Koningsdag, the King’s Day.
The holiday was first celebrated on 31 August 1885 and was called Prinsessedag or Princess’s Day; in 1885 the fifth birthday of Princess Wilhelmina, heir to the Dutch throne, was celebrated. The celebration of the birthday of the princess, so beloved by the people, was a way to promote national unity and the image of the monarchy.
The first municipality in the Netherlands to celebrate was Utrecht, but shortly afterwards many others began to observe the celebration. From Prinsessedag it became Koninginnedag in 1891; every year parades were held in honour of Princess Wilhelmina, who had in the meantime ascended the throne, except during the period of the German occupation, when the celebrations were abolished.
The feast day was later changed when Wilhelmina’s daughter Juliana ascended the throne, so the celebrations were moved to 30 April, the date of the new ruler’s birth. The holiday has been celebrated on this date since 1949. Juliana’s daughter, Beatrix Wilhelmina Armgard van Oranje-Nassau, or Beatrix of the Netherlands, decided to keep the celebration on 30 April after she ascended the throne in 1980, even though her birthday fell on 31 January.
The decision to keep the date of the celebrations in April was due to the greater possibility of being able to organise activities and events in the spring period, which would have been affected by the harsh Dutch winter if held in January.
The conduct of the celebrations under Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands changed radically: instead of the traditional flower parade at Soestdijk Palace, the Queen decided to celebrate the holiday by visiting two different cities in the Netherlands each year, accompanied by her children.
It was during the reign of Queen Beatrix that the centre of Amsterdam was opened on the festive day to the vrijmarkt, i.e. the free market for all citizens, which until then had been held in the suburbs.
The last Koninginnedag was also the last time the Koninginnenacht, i.e. Queen’s Night, was held, in which nightclubs throughout the state organised special events in honour of the monarch.
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