Posted by: Ashley Smith | November 21, 2008

Koninginnedag– Queen’s Day in Amsterdam

Netherlands, May 2008

It’s Koninginnedag in Amsterdam, and the usually muted colors of the streets and canals have come alive in a vivid sea of orange!  Koninginnedag– or Queen’s Day– is an annual celebration that takes place on April 30th in the Netherlands, marking the birthday of the beloved monarch.  Although these celebrations are held in cities throughout Holland, the most famous one by far takes place in Amsterdam, where over a million visitors join the city’s 750,000 residents to form what many call the world’s largest street party.

I had looked forward to Queen’s Day ever since I read about it in planning my semester-long stay in Amsterdam.  All I really knew about it was that it would probably involve lots of people and lots of orange (the Dutch royal color).  Both of these predictions held true. 

All oranged-out

All oranged-out

In true Amsterdam style, the party actually begins the night before, on Koninginnenacht, when locals and visitors alike pour into the city center for concerts, dancing, and general mingling.  My friends and I visited one tent after another, checking out the various bands, DJ’s and comedy shows going on well into the night.  The sun had already begun to rise by the time we made our way back to our student residence, and I wondered where we’d get the energy for another entire day of this!

On the morning of Queen’s Day, we left our residence only to find that the trams (our usual means of transport into the city) were not running due to the massive amounts of people in the streets, so we were in for a long walk.  Not to worry though, because there was plenty to see and do along the way.  Queen’s Day is the one day of the year when Amsterdam residents can sell things in the street without licenses, and so an enormous flea market (“vrijmarkt”) springs up, in which you can find used clothing, books, electronics, or anything in between. 

Once we finally make it into the city center a few hours later, I’m truly astonished by the number of people who have managed to cram in! In the streets, parks and plazas, there are wall-to-wall people, all decked out in bright orange, of course, which makes for a pretty surreal sight.  There are dozens, if not hundreds, of different concerts, dance tents, and street performers throughout the city– truly something to appeal to everyone. 

One of the most striking aspects of the festivities is that while they are certainly a celebration of national pride, they also reflect Amsterdam’s truly multi-cultural nature.  While wandering around the city, I ate Indonesian loempia (spring rolls), watched Brazilian capoeria performances, and listened to Caribbean reggae music, all while mingling with people from all over the world.  At the same time, this celebration also provided me with a good picture of Dutch culture, which had so far been hard to pin down.  Between the crowds’ spontaneous bursts into folk songs, the floating parties cruising down the canals on houseboats, and all the tasty deep-fried food (kaassoufflé, anyone?) this party was unmistakably Dutch.

Floating party

Floating party

Predictably, the celebrations continued on into the night, but even the seemingly-boundless energy of an exchange student has its limits, so we decided to call it a night and and finally get some sleep before heading out to Germany the next day.  Now, if only I could figure out what to do with all this orange clothing…

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