Queen’s Day (Koninginnedag), on April 30, is an annual public holiday in the Netherlands. It commemorates the Queen’s birthday. What many people do not realize, however, is that it’s actually not the reigning Queen’s birthday, but her mother’s (the former Queen, Juliana). I suppose one can’t blame Queen Beatrix for wanting to have some peace and quiet on her real birthday, January 31. Just as well, as it would be a bit cold that time of year for an outdoor party.
On the eve of Queen’s Day, known as Queen’s Night (or Koninginnenacht), Dutch people from far and wide descend on areas with cafes, nightclubs and bars. Amsterdam is especially popular. Many venues hold special themed evenings, but the party usually spills out onto the streets and goes on all night long.
Queen Beatrix always visits one or two towns where she is entertained by locals and children, often with traditional Dutch dances, songs and craft demonstrations. This tends to be quite a civilized and charming affair, befitting the dignity of a queen.
Meanwhile, the rest of Holland goes crazy. Special concerts and events are held in the main squares, often featuring well-known DJ’s and bands. Again, Amsterdam is a popular destination, with up to two million people partying in the city streets last year. Imagine one big churning flow of happy people, clad in orange clothing and headgear. The orange theme is in honor of the royal family, the House of Orange.
Many cafes and bars decorate their facades with themed posters and orange decorations. The larger squares writhe with people dancing to the beat of the music, while jam-packed boats, pumping house music, crowd the canals. It is not unusual to get stuck in a human traffic jam on Queen’s Day, especially in busy areas like the Jordaan and the central canal areas. Be warned, this is no day for Agoraphobics!
Queen’s Day is the one day of the year that anyone is allowed to sell anything in the streets. This giant flea market is called a Vrijmarkt (literally, free market), because people don’t have to pay tax on what they sell. People often get rid of old junk this way, but it is also a day of humor, and games and challenges are all part of the fun. The Vondelpark is reserved for the children’s Vrijmarkt, where children sell their old toys and display their musical, and other, talents. This is particularly charming.
It’s quite usual for a group of friends to descend on someone’s house to chat and chill after the big day. Everyone’s nursing parched mouths from all the drinking, singing and shouting, as well as empty stomachs. A pre-prepared buffet should keep them happy.
A themed Queen’s Day menu could look something like this:
- Orange and Fennel Salad
- Carrot and pineapple salad
- Orange soup (made with pumpkin and butternut squash)
- Pizza with griddled orange paprika, smoked ham and Mimolette cheese (this orangey version of Edam owes its orange color to added beta carotene)
- Bowls of garish orange colored ‘cheese’ chips and crisps
- Oranje tompoes
- Vla (cold custard) and (orange colored) fruit, such as peaches, apricots and mango, served in martini glasses
- Beer on tap, with orange paper cups
- Orange jello shots
- Big jugs of freshly squeezed orange juice, with or without added champagne
- Thermos cans of coffee and tea
It’s all about Orange on Queen's Day, so one has to be forgiven for having to resort to some unseasonal fruit and veg. I would freeze some grilled pumpkin and butternut at the end of the winter, to use for the soup, as it’s just out of season by Queen's Day. The fantastic orange color and delicious taste is worth the effort, and by prepreparing the vegetables, you will save yourself a lot of effort on the day. In fact, I advocate making as much as you can in advance (even if it’s just the prep work). Cooking when you’re tipsy is just asking for a kitchen calamity.