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King’s Day at the Netherlands Embassy

On 22 April, five days before King Willem-Alexander’s fiftieth birthday, the grounds of the Netherlands Embassy turned bright orange. Some 1000 guests, both Dutch and non-Dutch, were dressed in the Netherlands’ national colour for the day to join the festivities in honour of the King’s birthday on 27 April.

Photo: Ambassador Marisa Gerards shows Minister Lindiwe Zulu around the Embassy grounds

Instead of celebrating a national holiday to commemorate a historical event, such as Independence Day in the United States, France’s Quatorze Juillet or South Africa’s Freedom Day, the quintessential Dutch national holiday is Koningsdag, King’s Day (or Koninginnedag should we have a queen). On this day, the Netherlands throw a nationwide party for the birthday of the reigning monarch. How did this come to be and what are our most well-known traditions?

After 1815, the initial national holiday was 18 June, the date of the Battle of Waterloo which marked the end of the Napoleonic Empire and the inception of a Kingdom of the Netherlands comprising both the Netherlands and Belgium. This union collapsed in 1830, whereafter the Netherlands and Belgium became two separate countries. People in what had become the Netherlands had soon forgotten about Waterloodag. The northern parts of the Netherlands had already regained sovereignty in 1813, therefore the Battle of Waterloo had little significance to their inhabitants.

Without a national holiday, but with a very unpopular monarch — King Willem III — the liberals in the Dutch government were in search for a day that could promote national unity. Although the king was unloved, his four-year-old daughter, Princess Wilhelmina, was very popular. Hence, the first Prinsessendag (Princess’ Day) was held on her fifth birthday: 31 August 1885. When she assumed the throne five years later, Prinsessendag was renamed Koninginnedag.


As mentioned above, Koningsdag in the Netherlands is the one day of the year when it is perfectly acceptable to fully dress in orange, with or without a dash of blue, white and red, but there are more traditions. For one, the streets of many a town or city will be lined with people, very often children, trying to sell their unwanted goods. In between all these vendors you will find others who offer old school games like sjoelen, koekhappen and spijkerpoepen for a small fee. Bigger cities will also organise events like open-air concerts or small festivals. In recent years the festivities in these cities have started the night before Koningsdag, which has by now been dubbed Koningsnacht. And then, of course, there is the annual visit of the royal family to a town or city somewhere in the country, where they join the festivities and interact with the locals.


Despite the absence of our monarch and the absence of canals, at the Netherlands Embassy we did our best to create a Little Amsterdam. Guests were welcomed by the Dutch Ambassador to South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland, HE Marisa Gerards, who was our “Queen for a day.” As a compensation for the lack of water around the embassy, we had put up a banner with a picture of Amsterdam which guests could use as a backdrop for photos to experience the authentic Koningsdag feeling. Contributing to the authentic Koningsdag experience were the children in the driveway, who were selling their toys or offered homemade cupcakes or tompoezen with bright orange glazing. The Embassy provided bitterballen, nasi goreng and cheese, which could be paired with a glass Heineken beer by the guests over 18, while Spiral Jazz Quartet, Joep Pelt, Zuluboy and DJ Celio ensured the day was filled with music. Special guest of the day was Minister Lindiwe Zulu from the South African Department of Small Business Development, who even donned an orange flower chain and matching hat.

Emabassy of the Netherlands in Pretoria, South Africa



January/February 2020










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