While on Friday the rest of the world was tuning in with great excitement to the Royal Wedding, the people of Maastricht were eagerly anticipating another royal holiday. Yesterday was Queen’s Day (Koninginnedag) in the Netherlands, the annual celebration of the Queen’s birthday. First observed in August in the late 1800s (under the reign of Wilhelmina), the date changed to April 30 when Juliana took the throne in 1948. When her daughter Beatrix ascended in 1980, the date was retained even though the new Queen’s actual birthday is at the end of January, because honestly, wouldn’t you rather have a holiday in the spring when the weather’s nice?
Actually there is a practical side to celebrating this holiday during a time of year when sunny weather is more likely, and that has to do with what has come to be the traditional way for the Dutch to honor their queen: with a yard sale*. That’s right, on Queen’s Day, people are allowed to sell things on the street without a permit and without having to pay a tax; this has spawned the rise of a nationwide vrijmarkt (free market or flea market) on this day, as hundreds of people gather in public parks and squares to sell second-hand items.
* The British call a yard/garage sale a “car boot sale”; maybe because originally people sold their junk out of the back of their cars?
In Maastricht, there were a few people selling things in the Vrijthoff square, but by far the most popular spot to gather was in the park on the outskirts of the old medieval city walls, conveniently located right around the corner from our apartment. Take a look:
Basically it’s just a lot of junk (as most yard sales are) but the scale was incredible. I couldn’t imagine actually trying to find something to buy there, it was just too overwhelming, with literally hundreds of vendors spreading out their wares on blankets or card tables and thousands more people cramming the narrow paths, jostling to get a look. It was madness, I tell you, and only minutes from my front door!
Free outdoor concerts are also an increasingly popular part of the festivities, and Friday and Saturday the Stadtpark was converted into an arena with a couple of stages, a big bouncing toy for kids, and some stands selling street food and (of course) beer.
These pics were taken in the middle of the day before things really got going and the crowds started swarming. I went back at around 5 or 6 and it was a madhouse.
This shot makes me laugh: see those posters? They're for some sort of fitness club. See what they're hanging on? A beer stall. Ah, Holland!
There were also marching bands and street musicians regaling people throughout the city:
If you look closely (trying clicking the picture to enlarge), you can see that the bus in the back isn't actually a school bus. It was at one point, but now it's a Maastricht City Tours bus. Why you would want to tour this beautiful medieval city in an ugly, ungainly yellow bus with pretty much zero visibility is beyond me, especially when they also have pretty little trams and and horse and buggy ride options for those who don't want to walk around (and really, why don't you just walk? The historical, medieval portion of the city, where I live, is maybe one square mile all together, if that.).
These guys were my favorite: an all-percussion band conducted by a guy with a whistle, they were really good, an interesting mixture of younger and older people, and they all looked like they were having a lot of fun. Caused quite a bit of a traffic jam though, as everyone had the same idea I did and stopped to listen and take a picture.
The party actually started Friday night, with the concert and live music in a lot of the bars, and continued the next afternoon and evening. The atmosphere was rather St. Patrick’s Day-esque with all the revelry and music, especially because, in the same way everyone dons something green on St. Pat’s Day in the States, here people honor the royal family (the House of Orange-Nassau) by wearing orange (sometimes in the form of crazy wigs or balloons on their heads, the less free-wheeling perhaps with an orange t-shirt).
I of course went in search of some sort of unique Dutch food item associated with this holiday, but there really isn’t anything specific. Again like St. Patrick’s Day, Queen’s Day food usually just means regular food dyed orange or with orange icing (the Albert Heijn grocery store was having a special on Fanta).
Of course, if you’re like me and you subscribe to the belief that anything dyed a different color from the normal version tastes better, you’ll be just fine with that! Happy Queen’s Day!