April 30, Queen's Day

Every year, on this day, April 30, the Dutch celebrate Koninginnedag (Queen's Day). In practice, this means that most cities and towns are filled with orange decorations, flags are hanged from the windows, and all kinds of festivities are organized. The most popular event is the massive garage sale that is organized along the streets. This is the only day of the year that everybody is allowed to sell their stuff on the street without a permit, and many people enthusiastically take advantage of this opportunity.

The Queen and her family actively participate in the festivities, personally visiting and interacting with the Queen's subjects in a different town every year. However, in the past this was not always the case. This festive day was originally introduced at the fifth birthday of the first Dutch crown princess, Wilhelmina, on August 31, 1885. It was intended to promote a sense of national unity in the young kingdom. When Wilhelmina became Queen in 1898, the day became known as Queen's Day and was primarily a children's feast in which the Queen herself did not participate at all.

This changed when her daughter Juliana became queen in 1948. She changed the date to her own birthday, April 30, and made a public appearance on the balcony of the Soestdijk Palace to receive flowers from the thousands of people that would walk by to salute her. To give adults the possibility to salute the queen, more and more people received a day off from their employer. Nowadays, Koninginnedag has become a national public holiday.

When Beatrix became queen in 1980, one could have expected she would change the date of the celebration to her birthday, January 31. Instead, she kept the day on April 30, partly to honor her mother Juliana and partly because January 31 hardly provides weather conditions for outside festivities. She also changed the character of the day. She no longer wished to just stand on her balcony and wave at her subjects, she actually wanted to be part of the festivities. Therefore, she started the tradition of visiting a different town with her family each year. It has made the royal family more "approachable" and "close" to the Dutch. Many people enjoy watching them on TV participating in Old Dutch games like "koekhappen" (where you have to catch a piece of cake dangling from a thread with your mouth, without using your hands).

There is some tension around this year's Queen's Day since there was an attack on the royal family during the festivities last year. A madman drove straight through rows of spectators and tried to crash his car into the royal family's bus, injuring and killing several people, including himself. All further festivities were cancelled, giving the day an awful twist.

Let's hope this year we can enjoy the day as we used to!

Suggestions to dig further:

Official website of the Dutch Royal family
www.koninklijkhuis.nl (English version)

Attack on the Royal Family 2009
YouTube movie attack Queen's Day 2009

Koekhappen
Wikipedia page on "koekhappen" (Dutch version)
Wikipedia page on "koekhappen" (English translation by Google)