Each year, Dutch in the Netherlands and abroad commemorate the birthday of King Willem Alexander with a full day of music, food, and celebrating Dutch culture known as Koningsdag or King’s Day.
This fun, family event is the biggest Dutch public party, but what is it all about? Why do the Dutch get so into this national holiday? Here are the basics.
Who is the king?
The current Dutch monarch is King Willem-Alexander. He became the king of the Netherlands after his mother, now princess (then queen) Beatrix, announced in January of 2013 that she would abdicate the throne.
The monarchy has officially existed since 1815: although there have been stadtholders (chief magistrates) since 1581, William I (who was actually the second William I, confusingly) was the first leader of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
Nowadays, the royal family mainly serves a symbolic and diplomatic function, but they are actually one of the most expensive royal houses in Europe: in 2017, the family cost 41.4 million euros (roughly 2.50 euros per year per Dutch person).
What is King’s Day?
It’s a nation-wide celebration featuring open air concerts and flea markets. In honour of the royal family – the House of Orange – Dutch people deck themselves out in orange from head to toe. Villages and neighborhoods string up orange streamers and balloons, and host their own block party-versions of the national holiday.
King’s Day often means enjoying a bit of day drinking for grown-ups while browsing the goods for sale at the flea market. For kids, the flea markets are a place to try out their busking skills and set up traditional Dutch games like koekhappen (eating a piece of cake suspended on a string) and spijkerpoepen (maneuvering a nail on a string attached to your pants into a bottle) to earn a bit of money. Lots of younger Dutch folks get the party started the night before during musical performances on King’s Night.
Why is King’s Day a holiday?
The holiday was actually invented to create more goodwill for the then unpopular monarch, King William III (1817-1890). In 1885, the Netherlands originally began celebrating Princess’s Day as a national holiday in honour of his daughter, Princess Wilhelmina. The first Princess’s Day was only celebrated in Utrecht, but by 1890, when Wilhelmina ascended the throne, the holiday’s name changed to Queen’s Day.
That was the name which the holiday held for more than a century – Wilhelmina’s daughter Juliana and granddaughter Beatrix also celebrated Queen’s Day. The current king is the first male monarch in the Netherlands since William III. Willem-Alexander was crowned in 2013, and the holiday’s name became King’s Day in 2014.
When is King’s Day?
Since 2014, this holiday has been celebrated on 27 April. But the date and the name of the holiday have changed multiple times over the past century. Between 1885 and 1980, Queen’s Day was celebrated on the birthday of the reigning queen, but when Queen Beatrix was crowned in 1980, she decided not to change the spring holiday to her actual birthday, which was on the decidedly less warm date of 31 January. Conveniently, her son Willem-Alexander’s birthday is 27 April, so moving the national party day up three days was no big deal.
1885 – 1890: 31 August, Princess’s Day (Princess Wilhelmina)
1890 – 1948: 31 August, Queen’s Day (Queen Wilhelmina)
1948 – 1980: 30 April, Queen’s Day (Queen Juliana)
1981 – 2013: 30 April, Queen’s Day (Queen Beatrix)
2014 – present: 27 April, King’s Day (King Willem-Alexander)
Where are events happening?
Everywhere! We have compiled a (non-exhaustive) list of events in Groningen, Friesland and Drenthe happening on King’s Night and King’s Day, so click the links below for more info.
There is a lot planned in the city on both King’s day (April 27th) and King’s Night (April 26th)
- King’s Night Concert. Rev up your engine and head over to Vismarkt. Live music from several bands and DJs will be performed leading up to the early hours of the next day. An early ball drop is scheduled for the young ones at 20:30. You can expect lots of rap and techno music and more.
- If you’re into more solemn events, head to Groningen’s Lutheran church where two internationally renowned musicians – soprano Miranda van Kralingen and organist Pieter Pilon – will perform on 26 April. Miranda sang during the wedding ceremony of Willem Alexander and Máxima back in 2002. The concert starts at 21:30 and is accessible to people of all ages.
- The Orange Association in Groningen will organize multiple music events King’s Day. The main stage will be again on Vismarkt. In addition, the association also organizes a free market (9:00 to 17:00) on the Singels (Ubbo Emmiussingel, the Praediniussingel, the Ganzevoortsingel and the Coehoornsingel) and a children’s market (with music and performances) on Westerhaven.
- More music can be found at the Oosterpoort and Groningen’s Nieuwe Kerk.
- For a better overview of smaller planned events in different neighborhoods, head over to the Gemeente Groningen events calendar.
- Big King’s Day celebrations are planned in Sneek. There will be music, a free market and special activities for children throughout the day.
- Emmen King’s Night and Day Events can be found on the Gemeente Emmen website.
- In Assen, on April 26th there will be a concert from the Royal Military Band ‘Johan Willem Friso’; on King’s Day celebrations will continue with a free market throughout the city and a family festival on Koopmansplein.
Editorial note: This story has been updated on April 24, 2023
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