King William, the former Queen Beatrix, and Queen Maxima on the Koninklijk Paleis after the abdication

King William, the former queen Beatrix, and Queen Maxima on the Koninklijk Paleis after the abdication on April 30, 2013.

Koninginnedag (Queen’s Day) is one of the biggest holidays of the year in The Netherlands. The Queen often honours citizens for exceptional service to the country on this day: most become members of the Order of Oranje-Nassau. The Dutch also celebrate by wearing the colour of the House of Oranje-Nassau, of which the royal family are members, explaining the seasonal “orange madness.”

Free market in Amsterdam

Free market in Amsterdam

A girl sells her books in the Vondelpark

A girl sells her books in the Vondelpark

Traditionally, Queen’s Day has been the only day of the year when anyone who wanted to sell items could do so without a permit: the nation-wide vrijmarkts (free markets) are famous. Each local market has its own flavour: in Amsterdam’s Vondelpark, you’re likely to see children selling their old toys and books, homemade brownies and cupcakes, and performing on their musical instruments for donations from the thousands of passers-by. In my own Turkish-Moroccan-Indonesian neighbourhood, people sold second-hand clothing, china, and homemade snacks like loempia, donairs and onion bhaji.

April 30th, 2013 was a Queen’s Day like no other in The Netherlands: today Queen Beatrix abdicated her throne so that her son Willem could become king. The timing was particularly auspicious: Beatrix turned 75 this year, 2013 is the 200th anniversary of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the 400th anniversary of Amsterdam’s Grachtengordel (Canal Belt). Unlike the United Kingdom, which seems to reserve abdications for scandals, there is a long history of abdication in The Netherlands. Before Beatrix, her mother Juliana abdicated in 1980 at the age of 71 and her grandmother Wilhelmina abdicated in 1948 at the age of 68.

Celebrating on the Prinsengracht

Celebrating on the Prinsengracht

As tradition dictates, this morning’s formal abdication took place in the Koninklijk Paleis (Royal Palace) on Dam Square, and was quite a sedate affair: the Queen, Willem and his wife Maxima, and members of the King’s cabinet signed the official documents of abdication. The ceremony was broadcast live and although the setting and occasion were very formal, Beatrix, Willem, and Maxima exchanged quite a few smiles and happy looks in the process. King Willem, Queen Maxima, and their daughters Amalia, Alexia, and Ariane appeared on the balcony overlooking the square shortly afterwards, smiling and waving to the hundreds of orange-clad spectators below. A couple of hours later the king’s coronation took place in the Nieuwe Kerk at Dam Square, and following this the royal party will travel by boat along the IJ River for more festivities. For the first time in 123 years, The Netherlands has a King. The Dutch celebrated as they usually do: partying in boats in the canals, listening to live music all over the city, and buying and selling things in the free markets.

Queen’s Day was originally Prinsessedag (Princess’ Day), first celebrated on the 5th birthday of then-Princess Wilhelmina, August 1st, 1885; it was renamed when she inherited the throne in 1980. When Juliana became queen the date was changed to her birthday, April 30th; Beatrix kept the date as a tribute to her mother. As of next year Koningsdag (King’s Day) will be celebrated on April 27th, King Willem’s birthday.

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