It will not come as a surprise to you that the Dutch love holidays. After all, who doesn’t? The difference is that the Netherlands has a few very special holidays in addition to the traditional ones that are celebrated everywhere: Sinterklaas (December 5th), King's Day (April 27th) and Liberation Day (May 5th).
Sinterklaas is one of the most important people in the lives of all small children in the Netherlands. Every year on December 5th, this centuries-old man rides his majestic white horse over the roofs of all houses, dropping presents down the chimney with his helpers Black Pete's or “zwarte pieten.” He carries a big book in which he lists all children on their actions, good or bad. If you have been bad, he might take you back to Spain on his big steamboat.
The story of Sinterklaas might not be wholly true, but it is based upon a true story. The figure of Sint Nicolaas is based upon St. Nicolaas of Myra, who was a bishop in the 3rd century. He cared about people a lot, and as of today is still the patron saint of children, sailors, butchers and even students! Families, housemates, friends: all exchange gifts on this day. Gifts are supposed to be accompanied by a poem, often making fun of the receiver’s actions in the previous year. ESN Groningen also organizes a special Sinterklaas celebration, so you will definitely get the chance to try your hand at writing a poem yourself! Sinterklaas also exerts his influence upon the rest of the world, as he was the inspiration for Santa Claus, as known in the U.S. and many other countries.
Orange madness or “oranjegekte” is perhaps the most characteristic feature of Dutch celebrations, and there are no days like King's Day and Liberation Day to express this to the fullest.
As the name already reveals, King’s Day is a celebration of the monarchy, of the birthday of our king Willem-Alexander. People dye their hair orange, dress in all orange or in the red-white-blue of the Dutch flag, wear wooden shoes, whichever they feel expresses their inner Dutchie the best. Celebrating King’s Day in Amsterdam is something you have to do at least once, just for the experience. Every year up to one million people gather on the streets surrounding Amsterdam’s Museumplein, where some of the most popular Dutch artists help the audience dance the day away. But Groningen is also brimming with activity, and the Grote Markt is always full of people rocking to the many performers or browsing the flea market for that one hidden gem.
But it doesn't stop there. The two weeks of festivities continues with Liberation Day on May 5th, to celebrate the liberation of the Netherlands in World War II. It directly succeeds May 4th, Remembrance Day, on which all of those who gave their life in the wars are remembered in a nationally televised ceremony. May 5th is a day full of festivals and fun, but also of expressing what freedom means to us. In Groningen, the city’s largest park is filled with activities, from art exhibitions to music to information stands. At night, the Liberation Festival continues to draw the masses.
Even more holidays
It is clear that the Dutch love holidays. In fact, we love holidays so much that we even add some more days of celebration to classic holidays, such as a second day for Pentecost and Easter, and best-known, a second Christmas Day. In recent years, some Dutch families are even starting to speak of a third day of Christmas! During these days, students do not have classes and people are off from work, so there is plenty of time to celebrate with your friends or even take a short trip. Ascension Weekend, Pentecost Weekend and Easter Weekend are always busy with holidaying people making their way to the border, and many tour operators offer special getaways.
Also, when the Dutch national soccer team plays in an international tournament (especially the World Cup), many people create their own holiday: more people call in sick than on regular days, or they take the day off so they can go to a pub—dressed up in orange of course—to watch the Dutch squad play. In Groningen, the matches are shown in numerous bars, and a victory will lead to celebrations all over town. So come to Groningen to paint the town orange!