When we used to live in the centre of Leiden, the girls from one of the student houses would organise activities for children on the square. One year we had an Italian friend staying, and he popped out in the morning to see what was going on in the square. The first children were having their faces painted and bouncing on the bouncy castle. Then there was a noise from above and everyone looked up to see one of the lads from the other student house on the square, the boys' house, standing naked in the window with his arms and legs stretched out, shouting at the people below. This sums up Koniginnedag. It is extremely wholesome and a bit naughty at the same time.
Koninginnedag is a national holiday in the Netherlands where they celebrate the Queen's official birthday. It is on 30 April, unless that falls on a Sunday, in which case it is on Saturday 29 instead. In 2000 we were living in the centre of Leiden when it was Leiden's turn for the royal family to visit. The centre of Leiden was closed off and, because we lived in the sealed-off area, we were issued with passes to enable us to enter and leave the area freely. We opened our curtains in the morning to see a policewoman standing opposite our house. We left the area and re-entered it again just for the thrill of being among the few who were actually allowed in.
Our neighbour who, like me, is a republican but is more grown up in that he didn't seem to be secretly excited about it all, took the policewoman a coffee and complained to her about it being a police state. I liked the coffee and complaining. It was very open and Dutch.
We followed the progress of the royal family on the TV until the moment that they came round the corner and passed our house. We lived in a narrow street so they were very close to us. Someone handed out plastic cups of oranjebitter and, much to my neighbour's disgust and confirming his views on royalty, Princess Marilene dumped her half-empty cup on his windowsill.
It's a bit of a stereotype about the Dutch but the thing they seem to enjoy about Koninginnedag is that the towns turn into one big flea market. This gives them the chance to make some money and get some bargains: two stereotypes about the Dutch. You see kids out playing musical instruments badly to make some money and people doing all kinds of things to earn a few cents.
If you stay at home all day, don't turn on any Dutch TV and the Queen isn't visiting your street.
If you want to go the whole hog dress in orange and paint the Dutch flag on your face. Put a rug outside your house and fill it with all the unwanted stuff you want to sell and spend the day selling it. Or take your rug to the town centre and set up a stall there. Alternatively, you can spend the day wandering through town together with everyone else.
Orange clothes if, as above, you're going the whole hog. Oranjebitter - an orange liqueur. Anything orange.
The roots of Koninginnedag (Queen's day) can be traced back to 31 August 1885 when the first 'Prinsessedag' took place on the fifth birthday of the then Princess Wilhelmina. When she became queen, 'Prinsessedag' became 'Koninginnedag' and was celebrated on 31 August until 1948, when Juliana became queen. From 1949 Koninginnedag was celebrated on Juliana's birthday, 30 April. When Beatrix became queen in 1980 she decided to keep the date to honour her mother and because her birthday is at the end of January when the weather is likely to be bad.
Under Juliana the normal people would march past Soesdijk Palace. Beatrix changed this and since she has been queen the royal family goes to a different place each year to hobnob with the people. The visit is televised and involves brass bands, majorettes, singing, tumbling and some kind of activity, like riding bikes, that the younger royals do to show how easy-going and normal they are.
The royal family's visit is as much about how the Dutch see themselves and want to present themselves as it is about the royals visiting the plebs. The term 'fietsende monarchie' (cycling monarchy, as in royals who are down to earth and close to the people) was coined during the reign of Juliana and, although Beatrix is more formal, it is how many people still view the Dutch royal family.
After the attack on the royal family on Koninginnedag in 2009 in Apeldoorn the media was full of speculation about whether Koninginnedag would be able to continue in its present form and whether the royals would ever be able to move so freely among the people again.
Wat kost dat? How much is that?
Hoeveel wil je ervoor hebben? How much is that?
Hoeveel kost dat? How much is that?