Koningsdag, or King’s Day, is relatively new to me even though I have lived in the Netherlands my whole life – I was first introduced to it on 27 April 2014. Most Dutch people my age have fond memories of its predecessor: Koninginnedag (Queen’s Day). That’s Queen Beatrix’s birthday, which is on 30 April. The two celebratory days are the same in spirit: cities go all out for the festivities! Suddenly everything turns orange, and Dutch flags, which you usually hardly see in the Netherlands, hang from every house, every building and even on every bus!
Koninginnedag (Queen’s Day): A day for me and my dad
Every Koninginnedag, the Queen and her family would visit one or two lucky cities in the Netherlands to celebrate her birthday with the locals. The birthday celebrations would be just as festive with or without the guest of honour: people would gather en masse in the towns throughout the Netherlands and enjoy the day with lots of fun activities.
In Den Haag, I remember the massive funfair every year that would arrive. Starting from the Hofvijver at the Binnenhof, the rides and games would stretch all the way to the Lange Voorhout. I have fond memories of playing all the fun games like blikgooien, shooting hoops, touwtrekken and sjoelen when I was young. My dad is a police officer, and he used to work there every year. He would take little me to the funfair, and we would play as many games as I wanted. I could not believe that I would win a stuffed animal every single time – but I did. I was so proud of myself! As I got older, I realised that the people working there were very friendly with my dad and thought little me was quite cute, so they would let me choose a stuffed animal even though I lost the game terribly.
We would also walk by all the kleedjes (blankets) displaying items people didn’t need anymore or that they had found somewhere stored in the back of their cupboards. I have memories from the year I had my own kleedje set up in front of our house. It was not a success; firstly, our street was extremely quiet, and secondly, I was extremely shy. A salesman’s trick: don’t be too scared to talk to strangers.
The day with my dad would not be complete without poffertjes (tiny, fluffy Dutch pancakes) with poedersuiker (powdered sugar) or a big stroopwafel (caramel waffle-biscuit). We would buy them at the funfair and eat them there, still warm. I can still smell the sweet syrup and feel the warmth in my hands! When we got home, my mom would have special orange tompoucen (custard-filled pastry). My sister would tell me that my mom made them herself, which I believed. It turns out, Hema also makes the best orange tompoucen…
As I got older, the night before the national holiday became more of a highlight for my friends and me. We would go into The Hague city centre, listen to the performing artists on the Spuiplein, Grote Markt and Buitenhof, and make new friends with people who were also out celebrating. We would meet many international people who thought this was one of the best celebrations they had ever witnessed!
But no matter how wonderful this all was with my friends, I would always make sure to visit my dad on either the Night or Day, who still worked as a police officer in town. It became our little tradition.
Last year, I passed the traditions I have with my dad onto my nephew (six) and niece (four). I took them to a funfair at the Frederik Hendrikplein in Den Haag. We walked past all the kleedjes at the kleedjesmarkt like my dad once did with me. We shopped, we listened to artists performing, and we played games. We also had poffertjes (tiny, fluffy pancakes) with poedersuiker (powdered sugar). Afterwards, we visited my parents, who had laid out some delicious orange tompoucen just like when I was young. I told my nephew and my niece that my mom makes them herself. Unfortunately, they are not as gullible as I was and recognised them from Hema.
Koningsdag (King’s Day): Koninginnedag with added ‘activ(e)ities’
In 2013, the Queen announced that she was stepping down and handing the crown over to her son Willem-Alexander. One of the first worries that came to many Dutch minds was ‘what will happen to Koninginnedag?’. Of course, it has always been about celebrating the Queen’s birthday. Still, it had also become a day full of laughter, traditions, get-togethers and celebrating the Netherlands for many Dutch people.
We were all ecstatic when Koning Willem-Alexander introduced Koningsdag on his birthday, 27 April. He would hold onto the traditions his mom followed: visiting a different Dutch city every year, interacting with the locals, and ensuring everyone could watch it live on television through public channel NPO1 (formerly known as Nederland 1).
Koning Willem-Alexander also made some updates to Koningsdag to make things more contemporary. For example, you can now watch some of the events on social media live streams. Rather than just watching like his mom used to do, he joined in on the fun with the cheesemakers, artisans, dance groups and singing groups who would traditionally perform for the Royal Family on this day. As his daughters grew up and were old enough to participate, they joined the fun, too. Their little interactions were cute: a look into their family life.
One of the biggest changes he made for primary schools was introducing the Koningsspelen (King’s Games). Our King is a big sports fan: he was a long-tenured member of the International Olympic Committee and still supports Dutch sports from up-close, whether speed skating, football or hockey. His wife, Queen Máxima, shares his love of sports and suggested a commitment to a healthier and more active lifestyle for children. That commitment has resulted in the Koningsspelen. On the Friday before Koningsdag, all Dutch primary schools celebrate by playing lots of fun PE games.
Koningsspelen (The King’s Games): The British School in The Netherlands Annual (Orange) Highlight
The Junior School Leidschenveen (JSL) Dutch team feels it is important the children at The British School in The Netherlands (BSN) know the history of Koningsdag and why it is celebrated, and that we used to celebrate Koninginnedag. We dedicate two to three weeks to this specific topic and include vocabulary related to Koningsdag in our lessons.
A big part of our lessons are the songs by Kinderen voor Kinderen, a Dutch children’s choir with close ties to the Royal Family. Every year since the introduction of Koningsspelen, performers create a different song and dance, especially for Koningsdag, which all children in the Netherlands practise to all dance and sing it on the day of the Koningsspelen. We find that learning the dance and song is important as it shows that we are staying in tune with Dutch culture, that we are truly embracing the festive day and Dutch traditions!
One of our main goals is to make sure we celebrate Koningsdag as big as Dutch schools. That means that we want to include the Koningsspelen in our celebrations. This is not possible every year because of our Easter Holiday, so we have created our own Koningsspelen! We have joined forces with the JSL PE team, and every year we try to come up with fun sports games for the children. Of course, we stay true to a lot of old-fashioned Dutch games, like blikgooien and sjoelen.
The last Koningsdag we celebrated at JSL was in 2019. We started the day with a surprise visit by Koning Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima’s doppelgangers. Willem-Alexander looked a lot like a blonde Mr. Rigilio (Dutch Teacher at JSL), but that was pure coincidence! I guess we will never know if it was him or not. Together with these lovely visitors, the whole of JSL, staff included, danced to and sang the 2019’s Kinderen voor Kinderen song Pasapas to open the JSL Koningsspelen. That led to an extremely fun day filled with sports games and old-fashioned Dutch games.
The success of that day has become evident now in 2021 learning the new song – the children still remember the song and dance from 2019 word-by-word and step-by-step and can share their memories of the day in 2019 to children who have joined the BSN after, full of enthusiasm.
This year will, of course, be different than 2019 because of the pandemic we are in now. We, unfortunately, cannot have a grand opening with the whole school. Instead, we will have six mini openings: one with every year group. Unlike previous years the traditional JSL kleedjesmarkt is cancelled, but on the bright side: this gives us more time to include many more Dutch games ánd PE games to enjoy. So we’ll still have the best parts of a traditional Koningsdag: a time to be together, to be proud, to be happy, and to create memories that will stay with you a lifetime. That is what I hope we can give to the BSN children who come from all over the world; unforgettable memories about The Netherlands.
Enjoy Koningsdag 2021
Gaurisha (1989) was born and raised in Den Haag. After studying for her Masters’s degree in Utrecht, she joined the BSN and JSL in 2014. She first started as an LSA and a TA before becoming one of the JSL Dutch teachers and has been teaching the beginners since 2018. In her free time she enjoys cycling, feeding the birds in her garden, and listening and dancing to K-Pop.