Dutch Days – Silly Seasons – Fantastic Festivals! Pt2

Paasdagen 1&2 kicks off the year, the “voor jaar” of the Dutch public holidays, that being Easter and the traditional start of the much anticipated Spring.  

By the time that the crocuses have bloomed straight out of the cold winter ground, the daffodils have taken over and begun spreading their glorious bright yellow light into the slowly awakening new green growth of the northern hemisphere early spring.  Once the daffs have done their sunny dash, the heavenly scented hyacinths fill the gradually warming air with their headiness. Following close on their heels come the piece de resistance and the pride of the nation: the tulip!  Until one has seen these bulb fields in full bloom, I believe that it is virtually impossible to describe the spectacle of colour, colour so intense that it seems to hurt one’s eyes! 

Easter is practically trumpeted in by mother nature showing off her best colours and it is not possible to ever grow tired of such beauty!

Good Friday is a virtual non-event and is not observed as either a public holiday nor as the sombre religious occasion of the crucifiction either, it’s business as usual here in NL.

Easter Saturday is a normal Saturday and so too Easter Sunday, or “Eerste Paasdag”, apart from those of us Christian believers who rejoice in the resurrection of our Saviour.

Easter Monday is called “Tweede Paasdag” and is recognised as an official public holiday.  This is the extra day that families enjoy time together eating, walking, socializing and often a bit of market shopping – any excuse for a flea market where bargains are to be had, right?!

KoningsDag is the biggie where the entire country don any and every garment and get-up imaginable in the national colour, ORANGE in order to celebrate the king’s birthday!  The generational change of the monarch leads to some variation in the date though typically it is celebrated during the month of May.  

Apart from the obvious benefits of a public holiday it is also the most bizarre/comical/weird excuse for an annual clearing out of ANYTHING that one no longer wants in one’s home!  

The streets are literally lined with folks selling off their junk, no matter how large or small, new or old, personal or ambiguous it is, all under the guise of hilarity and crazy prices ranging from a few euro cents and upwards to a few tens of euros. Bartering and trading is brisk with many a nudge and a wink when exchanging wares for coins!

Hemelvaart (Ascension)  and Pinksteren (Pentecost) are only a week apart, both are Christian “holidays” but very few folk are aware of the reason or meaning of either.  The children are totally oblivious and it appears that the older generation and the teachers do not enter into any discussion over these pivotal occasions of the Christian calendar, sadly. 

The Sunday of the religious event is followed by a public holiday on the Monday, hence the names eerste en tweede.

Sinterklaas kicks off the festive season at the beginning of November when the white bearded “saint” arrives on his boat, ostensibly from Spain, with his trusty helper and prankster, the now racially controversial Zwarte Piet – originally a Moor-slave taken from Africa to Spain by whichever colonial conqueror decided to enslave their fellow human being, and there he raised his family, the children thereof became the little Piet’s who helped the Sint with his charitable works giving gifts to the children abroad.  

The charm of the occasion is something not to be missed and one becomes totally swept-up in the magical, mystical wonder of the little children as they wait sooooo long for the boat to come up the canal, singing songs and calling for the Sint to hurry along!  Without small children of our own any longer, I was totally enchanted by the effort that the communities go to with this magical traditional event and that the parents go on with dressing their offspring up as little Pieten-helpers!  Seeing them loaded into a bakfiets (that would translate to a box bicycle where children are cycled around by their parents who display remarkable cycling skills to manipulate and maneuver these two wheeled kiddie carriers!) with their dress-up gear flying in the wind, clutching little mop hats adorned with brightly coloured feathers.  Some paint their faces with “sooty marks” which has become the more politically correct and socially acceptable version of Zwarte Piet.

Sinterklaas arrives in order to establish, over the course of about a month, which children have been good and which children have not been so good – the greatest opportunity for parental bargaining!  All the bribing and negotiating culminates with pakketjes avond (packages/gift evening) on the 5th December.  

There is much to be said around this charming Dutch tradition that will have to wait for the appropriate time of the year for a full explanation…!

Kerstmis/Christmas begins with eerste Kerstdag on 25th December and is followed by tweede Kerstdag on 26th or Boxing Day as I grew up knowing it as.  Neither day has any significant Christian celebration associated with it and for me, as committed believer, I have found Christmas time in The Netherlands to be something of a let-down in terms of the build up and excitement associated with the Christmas traditions of my childhood however, the best part of Christmas here in NL is that it is delightfully cheerful and goes a long way to dispel any serious winter blues with all the feelings of festivity and the warmth of family time together along with the many Christmas markets.

Jaarwisseling – New Year’s Eve – is the craziest, most festive, fun, family and friends time in this country!  It is when the austere, frugal Dutch folk literally blow up their hard earned euros in the biggest fireworks display that I have ever seen!  How they can sanely blow up in the region of 250 MILLION EUROS nationally, is mind-boggling!?  

The air is a haze of smoke and gunpowder and the sky is lit by gazillions of coloured sparks and lights – it is truly a spectacle to experience and for us, without having spent a single cent, get to bask in the madness that the fireworks generate!

At midnight the champagne is popped and quaffed along with oliebollen which is something like a donut ball, or the traditional South African vetkoek, all dusted with icing sugar.  This is a midnight snack to top the feast that has usually been consumed over the course of the evening building up to the midnight hour!

And so begins a new calendar year but is only about half way through the Dutch seasonal year, something of the proverbial damp squib for us southern hemisphere folk!

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