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The Netherlands (Holland) - Holidays, Festivals and Important Dates

Annual public holidays in the Netherlands include New Year's Day, Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Easter Monday, the Queen's official birthday on 30 April, Liberation Day on 5th May, Ascension Day, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. There are also a number of additional holidays to mark local traditions and festivities in different parts of the country.

Holland's main annual festival is Carnival, held in February during the period preceding Lent. Although a national tradition, it is celebrated much more extensively in the south of the country, where many businesses close for three days of parades, singing, drinking and general merrymaking.

In April, the Queen's official birthday is marked by a holiday and by big markets held in Amsterdam and other towns and cities.

4th May sees the Remembering the Dead holiday in memory of all those Dutch soldiers and civilians who lost their lives in the Second World War, which is marked by a two-minute silence across the country at 8 p.m. Immediately following this sombre occasion, on 5th May the country celebrates Liberation Day in memory of its liberation from occupation in 1945, although it is no longer the case, as in the past, that all businesses close on this day.

Dutch children are enjoying a recent revival of the 11th November Trick or Treats ritual, or feast of St Martin, in which they go from house to house entertaining people with songs about St Martin, and receive goodies such as cookies or sweets in return.

The most anticipated festival of the year for children, however, is the arrival of Sinerklaas, or St Nicholas, who brings gifts on the eve of 6th December, his birthday. Considered the Patron Saint of Children in the Netherlands, this character is very similar to Santa Claus, but is believed to reside in Spain rather than the North Pole, and to have a troop of helpers with black faces, reportedly representing the Moors who were chased out of Spain in the 15th century and sought gainful employment with St Nicholas. In the Netherlands 6th December is the date when families exchange gifts, and indulge in traditional Christmas goodies such the gingerbread and marizipan-based banketstaaf. In contrast, Christmas Day is usually a day kept primarily for religious observance among churchgoers, and quiet family get-togethers. On New Year's Eve, it is traditional to call briefly on neighbours to wish them good luck for the year ahead.

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