King’s Day is the one day in the year when Holland turns orange. Everyone comes out onto the streets wearing the national colour – and they don’t do it by halves.
From orange Day-Glo suits reminiscent of Jim Carrey in The Mask and head-to-toe onesies to the brightest of mini-dresses!
Even the most timid Dutch folk wear a small bright orange colour somewhere on their person, whether a pair of orangey ear-rings, a cowboy hat or rabbit ears.
I’d never heard of King’s Day – or Koningsdag (in its native Dutch) till this weekend when we were touring Holland in the camper van and stopped off in Leiden and Haarlem.
It felt odd to be the only two people not wearing the colour on the streets, a bit like being gatecrashers at a private party.
We were puzzled about the event. What was all this jollity about?
What was supposed to be a quiet Saturday stroll around both towns turned into a rowdy party with thousands of people flooding onto the streets in a mass of orange hues.
The future is orange
Then I discovered what all the fuss was about. King’s Day is the biggest national event in Holland.
It’s a bit like a cross between the UK’s Jubilee street parties mixed with World Cup mania and ‘Dutch Corner’ at the Tour de France.
Even the Dutch royal family takes to the streets to be received by one or several Dutch towns for a fun-filled day out away from their stuffy old palace.
I’m not sure if I approve of the Dutch monarchs wearing matching orange crowns and tiaras but it does at least illustrate that they have the common touch.
But what are the roots of this eccentric event?
Could it be something to do with the Second World War liberation of the Netherlands? We’d already spotted a pipe band playing ‘Tunes of Liberation’ against a backdrop of Allied flags.
In fact, it is nothing to do with War-time patriotism nor is it a celebration of the Dutch tulip harvest.
King’s Day marks the birth of King Willem-Alexander, the current Dutch monarch. It’s as simple as that.
A right royal celebration
King’s Day is basically an excuse for a good party with a huge dollop of national pride thrown in.
The orange jamboree started on 31 August 1885 as Princess’s Day, the birthday of Princess Wilhelmina, heir to the Dutch throne.
On her accession, the holiday took on the name, Koninginnedag. Following the accession of Wilhelmina’s daughter Queen Juliana in 1948, the holiday was moved to Queen Juliana’s birthday on 30 April.
The colour relates, of course, to the Dutch House of Orange.
When King Willem-Alexander took the throne, the holiday became known as Koningsdag or King’s Day from 2014 and the celebration was shifted to his birthday on 27 April.
The rest is they say, history, followed by one hell of a lot of street parties.
Those who weren’t on the streets celebrating were having King’s Day boat parties on the canals and rivers with crates of beers.
On King’s Day “orange madness” takes over the whole of The Netherlands. No town or city is immune from orange mania.
As we watched the festivities in Haarlem, looking a little bemused, other Dutch cities were also gearing up for the big orange extravaganza.
Amsterdam was transforming itself into the nation’s biggest orange party city with hardly a cafe or bar with an empty seat or bar stool. Standing room only.
The Hague also had something called Koningsnach or King’s Night featuring dozens of music performances in the city centre.
Utrecht boasted the biggest flea market in Holland.
But there lies the problem for me.
I’m all for great street parties and celebrations but these flea markets were amongst some of the tattiest I’ve seen in Europe.
The whole nation turns itself one giant car boot sale. It’s a great example of “bring out your tat” and lay it out on a market stall or simply arrange it badly on the pavement.
Worried how to dispose of grandpa’s old hat or denture collection? Stick them on a carpet and sell them to eager passers-by wearing orange hats.
Wondering what to do with those Delft cracked ceramic tiles, brass woodwork tools or the dodgy vinyl collection lying dusty in the basement?
Then, this is THE place to come – an old style market where you’ll get more takers than eBay, especially as most people have been drinking so will shell-out for any old rubbish!
Even a stall full of old Heineken memorabilia from bath towels to beer mats and tankards to grotesque figurines looked quite appealing after a few beers in the sunshine.
There’s also a lot of street music, some of it really bad.
If you like Oom-pah music and bad cover version bands, you’ve come to the right place for a party but you’d have to be drunk to listen to it for any length of time!
For those who like monotonous music blasting over the town with tacky fairgrounds and side stalls, this could be your kind of event.
Worse still, I wanted to buy some Dutch bread, cheese and cakes for lunch but every shop in town was shut for the public holiday. Getting a table in a cafe or bar for a quiet, charming lunch was simply impossible.
It’s a pity because the whole King’s Day event could be much better and a bit classier or cooler.
Even the entertainment could be much superior in quality. Why does this type of event attract every bad musician for miles? There must be better bands locally – or perhaps the event isn’t cool enough for them?
Perhaps we happened to be in the two worst street parties – in Leiden and Haarlem? But I doubt it.
They reminded me of the dreadful British Jubilee street parties with their forced merriment. Somehow I’d expected more from the Dutch.
After all, we Brits specialise in this kind of festival of tat and rubbish. Didn’t we invent the car boot sale?
Perhaps I’m being a bit harsh?
You have to admit that the sea of orange and the party atmosphere is fun and entertaining.
And there’s plenty of amusement to be had from spotting mad outfits and crazy characters.
A man sporting a lurid. bright orange onesie certainly made King’s Day a treat for me!
So, why not have a Queen’s Day event in the UK? There could be beer gardens, music and street parties – just like in Holland.
Then again, perhaps not!
Where to celebrate…
King’s Day is usually held across Holland on the weekend closest to 27 April so book this into your agenda for next year if you like wild street parties.
Check out the Netherlands Tourism website for the bigger picture.
Don’t forget to think ‘orange’ – hats, shoes, suits, dresses. Even think about dyeing your hair orange too. Why not complete the look with orange face paint which seems to be de rigueur if you’re a child or student.
Amsterdam hosts the biggest orange party of them all. Be prepared to pace yourself for a complete day of full-on events.
Forget sight-seeing during King’s Day. The streets are rammed and it’s hard to move far or see the historic buildings for orange balloons and fun fairs.
One nice touch in Leiden, though, was a windmill, painted with a giant Dutch flag.