A country united in delirious celebration on the streets of every city, the Netherlands becomes a sea of orange each year on 30th April as they celebrate ‘Koninginnedag’ – the birthday of their Queen. This year I was fortunate enough to be invited by some Dutch friends of mine to the city of Arnhem in the east of the country, for this annual event. I had virtually no idea of what to expect, other than enthusiastic comments from my friends and the scanning of a Wikipedia article which said this event was known for ‘heavy drinking, partying and wearing orange’.
As I took the hour long train from Amsterdam to Arnhem, I immediately noticed how beautiful the country was. There was at least one canal in view for virtually every minute of the journey, with striking pine trees emerging as I neared my destination. Locals eagerly helped me as I tried to make sense of my hastily purchased Dutch phrase book – the idea of attempting to learn this language fascinated me because it is estimated that fewer than 30 million people speak the language worldwide, less than half the population of the United Kingdom!
The Queen’s Day festivities began at 2pm with different parts of the city beginning musical entertainment on large stages, and people beginning to flood in from surrounding areas. Sporting orange flower garland, orange sun glasses and dyed orange hair, and brandishing an orange whistle, we made our way into the city to join in the celebrations. Queen Beatrix, visiting another Dutch city with the rest of the Royal family, was broadcasted on televisions dotted around the city, as the Netherlands celebrated in style.
Despite hearing of flooding back in the UK, the sky was blue and the sun was shining, with temperatures reaching 25 degrees as we danced to a range of music from chart toppers to Dutch songs which had everyone (bar myself and my English friend) singing along. I learnt to sing a Dutch chant (“Oranje boven, leve de koningin” – “Orange above, long live the Queen”) and looked up at the houses surrounding the square I was in to see people sitting with legs hanging out of the window, waving and singing!
Around the city there were stages suspended above narrow streets, bordering the River Rijn, and set in the shade of tree lined squares meaning that we were able to move around quite a lot and experience a great variety of performances. In addition to dancing amidst the wave of orange euphoria, there were traditional flea-markets to experience, and beautiful fountains which we sat next to providing the occasional much needed rest from the bustling city centre.
In the evening, a fireworks display provided a striking end to the festivities, splashing beautiful colours onto the reflective surface of the river. Sitting there I thought back on what had been an incredibly enjoyable day. I cannot think of a comparable day in the UK – an outburst of patriotism where everyone proudly displays the same colour. Sadly I can see Health and Safety having endless problems if such an event was held back at home.
I will finish with some advice – first of all, wear good shoes. If you want to make the most out of your day, there will be a lot of walking, and in flip-flops you will probably struggle. Secondly, toilets in Dutch cities cost 50 cents WHEREVER you go, so try and go before you leave! Thirdly, although it is the capital, the girls I stayed with told me to stay clear of Amsterdam – it gets incredibly crowded on Queen’s Day and it is hard to move. Then again, maybe this is what you’re looking for?! Lastly, have fun and chat to loads of people – the Dutch are some of the friendliest people I’ve met and are genuinely delighted if you make the effort to learn their language, so get stuck in and enjoy it!