Every time I fly back home to the Netherlands from a trip, there is a little ritual I never fail to partake in. When my plane begins to make the descent to Amsterdam airport, ready to touch back down on home soil, I peek out the window and marvel at the familiar sights down below. (I’m sure my fellow Dutch guides may feel the same way!)
First, I note the flatlands of Zeeland; then the port of Rotterdam; the flickering orange lights indicating the greenhouses of Westland; windmill-dotted meadows; long stretches of beaches and the few high-rises of The Hague, before we descend towards Schiphol.
On the drive back to my hometown, the ‘royal town’ of Den Haag (The Hague), I’m always amazed at what my little country has to offer, especially in late April, the best time of year to visit. I’m proud to be from The Hague, and it’s one of my favourite things to show travellers firsthand what it’s like to ring in the biggest party of the year: Koningsdag, King’s Day.
A royal tradition
The tradition of King’s Day (or Queen’s Day, depending on the reigning monarch), is one that stretches back to 1885. It has always, for the most part, celebrated the monarch’s day of birth. Amusingly, this tradition began on August 31, 1885, as a way to distract citizens from the unpopularity of King William III; Prinsessedag (Princess Day) was created to give the country something to celebrate (instead of calling for the king’s head, as it were).
Princess Wilhemina, much more popular than her father at four years old, was thus feted every year on her birthday, continuing on as she became queen. This practice continued through to 1948, with a pause during the Second World War in German-occupied Holland, when the celebration was banned.
And so, through the years, since all the monarchs until the present day have been queens, we have spent most of our lives celebrating Koninginnedag, Queen’s Day. In the post-war era, the holiday moved to April 30th in honour of Queen Juliana’s birthday. When the next in line to the throne, Queen Beatrix, stepped up to claim her crown in 1980, she kept the April 30th date intact, as her actual birthday, January 31st, was much too cold to hold outdoor festivities.
All of this, of course, brings us to the current era. In 2013, Queen Beatrix abdicated the throne in favour of her son, our current King Willem-Alexander, and moved the holiday to honour his birthday on April 27th…which brings us to the parties! Here in The Hague, we are well-known for our celebration the night before King’s Day—Koningsnacht (King’s Night), a large open-air music festival.