Holland's Festival of Oranges

by Lynda Wilson
Queen's Day is celebrated annually in the Netherlands.

Queen's Day is celebrated annually in the Netherlands.

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On April 30th of every year, millions of merrymakers flood the streets of Holland wearing head-to-toe orange to celebrate Queen's Day, often called the Orange Festival, or "oranjegekte" in Dutch. Queen's Day has been celebrated in the Netherlands for over 100 years and marks the official celebration of the Queen's birthday. Orange is the official color of the royal family, descendants of the House of Orange-Nassau.


The tradition of celebrating Queen's Day ("Koninginnedag") goes back to 1891 to celebrate the birthday of Princess Wilhelmina, daughter of King William III. The celebration was originally known as Princess' Day ("Prinsessedag"), and was celebrated on August 31. It became known as Queen's Day in 1890 after Wilhelmina ascended the throne following the death of her father. When Wilhelmina's daughter, Juliana, became queen in 1948, Queen's Day was moved to April 30th each year to coincide with the birthday of the new queen. On April 30, 1980 Juliana's daughter Beatrix became queen. Beatrix's birthday is on January 31, but the holiday is still celebrated on April 30th to honor Queen Juliana and to celebrate the coronation of Queen Beatrix.

The Royal Color

The color orange is symbolic of the Netherlands and can be seen in many national symbols and customs. On some national holidays, an orange strip of cloth called a "wimpel" is hung above the Netherland's red, white and blue flag. The wimple symbolizes the Dutch royal family, also known as the "House of Orange-Nassau." Orange is the color of the day for Queens Day Festival and the streets are full of celebrants wearing orange clothing, orange face paint, and even orange hair dye. The traditional drink for the holiday is "oranje bitter," a bright orange-colored drink that is made by soaking the peel of bitter oranges in a strong alcoholic beverage called "jenever." The food markets at the festival offer orange-colored fare, including orange cakes, custards and soft drinks.


Across the country, Orange Committees, comprised of members of clubs for royal family enthusiasts, organize their local events. The Queen's Day festivities often begin the night before, especially among the younger crowd, when the streets and bars of Holland are full of revelers getting a head start on the festivities. Queen's Day is also an occasion to buy or trade things in the free markets. The Queen's Day markets are large and often city-wide. The holiday is a traditional time to sell unneeded used items. The clothing sales at the free markets have the year's cheapest prices on fashion. In addition to the free markets, the city squares are popular gathering spots to drink, sing and listen to music. In Amsterdam, where close to one million people take part in the festivities, the canals are full of revelers drinking on boats. Children celebrate Queen's Day with traditional Dutch games such as "koekhappen," where they jump up to eat traditional cakes dangling from strings without using their hands, and "spijker poepen," where a nail on a string is tied to the wrist and lowered into a bottle. Each year, the royal family visits a couple of the nation's cities and towns, where they are entertained with performances about historic events.

Festival Tips

If you're planning to visit Holland on Queen's Day, book your travel arrangements early and expect crowds. Avoid traveling by car or bicycle; instead wear comfortable shoes for walking. Queen's Day is the one day on which street vendors are allowed, so cities are wall-to-wall flea markets and rummage sales. In the bigger cities such as Amsterdam, it will be difficult to reach the center of the city by most forms of public transportation, so it's advisable to stay in a downtown hotel. The parties usually start the night before, on Queen's Night (Koninginnenacht). If the April 30th falls on a Sunday, the main celebration takes place on April 29th, and the festivities begin the night of the 28th. Above all, remember to wear orange!

About the Author

Lynda Wilson has been sharing her knowledge with web readers for over 10 years. She currently owns and operates online travel websites covering travel to Mexico. Her past experience includes operating a Spanish school in Mexico, as well as directing graduate admissions at a major U.S. university. Lynda holds a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Business Administration from the University of Minnesota.

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