Celebrations, especially communal ones, are a very important part of any culture, and the people of Holland enjoy an abundance of lively festivals all year round. These occasions range from being colorful to fun to quirky, and some of them may also seem a bit strange, especially to an outsider. Many of the events have been observed for decades or even centuries, and have strong ties to the glorious heritage and traditions of the Netherlands, while others are relatively new.In addition, unlike in earlier days, when celebrations were only limited to national and religious occasions, the Dutch today also celebrate a number of artistic and seasonal festivals.
As an expat in this country, it is important that you get to learn about its various cultural aspects; and what better way to do that than being a part of their cultural celebrations? Read on to learn about the top ten Dutch festivals that expats in the Netherlands must not miss.
New Year’s Day is celebrated in different ways all over the world but the Dutch have added their own flavor to this universal occasion. Many of the locals believe in starting their New Year by taking a dive in chilly waters. Once they are done, the shivering swimmers are presented with a cup of Erwtensoep, a meaty pea soup.
This tradition is a fairly new one, which was started by a swimming club in Zandvoort in 1960, when the members decided to bring in the New Year with a plunge in the sea. The dive received national attention when a very popular soup brand decided to sponsor it. Since then, the number of locations and participants has consistently increased year on year.
There are more than 60 different locations all across the Netherlands, for the residents to take the Nieuwjaarsduik or New Year Dive in. However, the North Sea at Scheveningen, Hague is the most popular spot, with over 10,000 people visiting the pier in a single day, regardless of how cold it is. More information about registering can be accessed here.
More than 25,000 locals and visitors participate in Nieuwjaarsduik each year. For more information on this festival, click here.
Opening of Keukenhof Gardens
In the month of March, the Netherlands treats its residents to the greatest flower show on earth. Keukenhof, the largest and most famous flower park in the world, opens its doors to visitors usually towards the end of the month. Each year, a different theme is followed as around 8 million flower bulbs are planted in the various gardens and pavilions. In fact, this is one of Holland’s biggest and main attractions, drawing tourists from all over the globe.
As an expat, if you are in Holland during spring, don’t miss the spectacular display of tulips, daffodils, orchids, narcissi, hyacinths, roses, lilies, bluebells, crocuses, amaryllis, irises, carnations and several other types of flowers in bloom at this 80-acre (32-hectare) park, located right in the heart of the bulb country. The spectacle of colors and perfumes from over 7 million different flowers in bloom is almost overwhelming for nature lovers. Moreover, since a different theme is followed each year, no two displays are alike.
Keukenhoff is in Lisse, right between Amsterdam and the Hague. The garden can be reached in about half an hour from these places, as well as Haarlem and Leiden. Locals advise visitors to combine a visit to the park with the Flower Parade in April.
For more information on the opening for Keukenhof Gardens, you can log on to Holland’s tourism website.
The Silent Procession is a ritual that serves as a substitute for the Roman Catholic marches, which were prohibited after the Reformation in the Netherlands, around the 16th century. Every year, on the Wednesday after the 12th of March, the festive week begins and goes on for a period of 4 days (till Saturday). On Saturday night, the Silent Procession commences, which goes on till Sunday morning.
Amsterdam is often referred to as the Miracle City and the Dutch capital earned this name because it was a place of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages. On March 15, 1345 a Eucharistic miracle occurred on Kalverstraat, which involved a dying man, who vomited upon being given the Holy Sacrament during his last rites. According to the custom, the Host was placed in the fire but it remained intact. This was officially recognized as a miracle by the Roman Catholic Church and the Holy Site or Heilige Stede, a large pilgrimage chapel, was built where the house stood. The route to this site is called the Holy Way or Heiligeweg.
On average, close to 10,000 people take part in the Silent Walk, which begins on Saturday night and ends on Sunday morning. The next Stille Ongangs will take place on March 18, 2017. For more information on this festival, click here.
King’s Day, earlier known as Queen’s Day, is an annual Dutch holiday in the honor of King Willem-Alexander, whose investiture occurred on April 13, 2013. Koningsdag is celebrated on the 27th of April each year. However, it moves to the 26th of April if the 27th falls on a Sunday.
More than a quarter of a million locals and tourists gather at the center of Amsterdam for a street party. Celebrations are held at various other places across the Netherlands too. People don orange clothes, color their hair orange and even go as far as painting their faces orange for this occasion. The entire city (including children) participates in a gigantic street carnival, which lasts from sunrise to sunset. Stalls are set up all over the place and a range of bands plays on stages. The festivity reaches its climax in the evening in the form of a fireworks display, which lights up the whole night sky. Many of the younger partygoers begin their celebrations the night before (on Koningsnacht, King’s Day eve), as there are numerous musical concerts held at various places.
For more information on this popular Dutch festival, click here.
Doden Herdenkingsdag and Bevrijdingsdag
Every year on the 4th of May, the residents of the Netherlands commemorate all those civilians and members of the armed forces who lost their lives in war or any kind of peacekeeping operation. This occasion is known as Remembrance Day and it falls on the day before Bevrijdingsdag or Liberation Day (the 5th of May). These are days of annual observance, not national holidays, but several establishments shut for business.
The year in which the first Remembrance Day was held is unclear; while some believe it was in 1945, others state that it was 1946. The location of the gathering was Amsterdam’s Dam Square. Up until 1961, the commemoration was limited to Dutch victims of World War II, but since then the victims of other conflicts are also remembered.
The main ceremonies, attended by the royal family, cabinet members, military leaders and resistance movement representatives, are conducted at the National Monument on Dam Square in Amsterdam. At exactly 20:00 hours, 2 minutes of silence are observed throughout the country. Even the radio, public transport and traffic come to a complete stop. In 2001, the tradition of hanging the flags at half mast (18:00 onwards) was introduced and has been continuing since then.
New herring is a delicacy all across the Netherlands and its arrival is a reason for the Dutch to rejoice. Flag Day is an annual festival, which signifies the arrival of the New Herring. Every year, it is celebrated in June, on the Saturday prior to Pentecost. Flag Day can be postponed if the herring are not fat or ripe enough.
According to tradition, the herring fleet used to get ready for the new fishing season on this day, after a long, cold winter. Boats were decorated with numerous flags and would sail around the harbor.
Things have changed a bit today and the Dutch dress up in traditional wear and celebrate the arrival of the first barrels of herring to the shore, with a lot of beer. Symbolically, the first barrel is auctioned and the proceeds go to charity. People spend up to € 70,000 (US $ 78,151; £ 60,495) on one barrel of fresh herring.
The Pop and Rock festival is a huge annual event, held in the city of Landgraaf, in Limburg. It has been running once a year since 1970, making it one of the oldest art festivals in the world. It gets its name from the Dutch term Pinksteren, meaning Pentecost, as it is traditionally held at around that time, in June.
During this 3-day event, lasting from Saturday to Monday, famous pop, rock, electro, dance, hop, punk, indie, folk and alternative music bands from all over the work line up. More than 60,000 people visit the 4 different stages each day.
To know more about Pinkpop, log on to pinkpop.nl.
Each year, fireworks producers in the Netherlands head for a small beach town near Den Haag to be a part of the Scheveningen Fireworks Trophy. This colorful event can be quite noisy and lasts for a period of 4 days during the month of August.
Thousands of spectators gather at this location to view the vibrant display of lights and sounds. The beach cafes are full with customers wanting to get the best view of the fireworks display. Every evening, two shows are held and the winners are announced on the 3rd night.
For more information, log on to vuurwerkfestivalscheveningen.nl
The Relief of Leidens processions and festivities is one of the biggest events in the country. It lasts for two consecutive days, the 2nd and 3rd of October. This occasion commemorates the defeat of the Spanish Siege on October 3, 1574.
There is a lot of traditional and historical meaning attached to Leidens Ontzet. During this event, the citizens distribute herring and white bread, just like the band of Sea Beggars did to drive away the Spaniards and end the siege. People celebrate by participating in parades, concerts, funfairs, markets, parties and fireworks. In the evening, people consume bowls of steaming hutspot, a traditional carrot and onion stew.
For more on the Relief of Leidens, click here.
Sinterklaas or Sint Nicholaas is a legendary mythical creature quite similar to Santa Claus. He sails into Amsterdam with 600 Zwarte Pieten or black-painted assistants sometime during mid-November. His arrival is marked by the largest Saint Nicholas parade as 400,000 spectators, boats and floats line up for more than a kilometer.
For the next two weeks or so, Sinterklaas makes several appearances across the city, hosting exhibitions and meeting little children. On the 5th and 6th of December, people across the Netherlands exchange presents. According to the legend, St. Nicholas drops of gifts at little children’s doorsteps, before leaving for Spain.
For more information you can log on to holland.com.
The festivals listed above are ten of the more popular ones in the Netherlands, but there are many others that you can look forward to. Some of these include the Rotterdam International Film Festival (late January or early February), Chinese New Year (January or February), Mardi Gras (February), Boomfeestdag or the Festival of Trees (March), National Restaurant Week (April or May), Bloemencorso or Flower Parade (April or Early May), Nationale Molendag or National Mill Day (May), The Hague Festival (May or June), Holland Festival (June), Grachtenloop or Canal Run (June), Zomercarnaval or Rotterdam Summer Carnival (July), North Sea Jazz Festival (July), Amsterdam Gay Parade (August), Grachtenfestival or Amsterdam Canal Festival (August), Jordaan Festival (September) and World Christmas Church (December).