The Reason for Royalty: Queen’s Day in Amsterdam

Sometimes it’s hard to see the point of royalty.  All they have to do to get the job is be born; all they have to do to keep it is not die; and they often seem to spend most of the time in between making bad decisions about sex partners.  But, the always practical Dutch have found a point for their royal family: they’re an excuse for a party.

The party is called Queen’s Day, and it happens on April 30th each year.  The Queen’s birthday is actually January 31st, but the always practical Dutch have decided that if their queen is going to be so inconsiderate as to be born in the drizzly midwinter, that’s her problem, not theirs.  There are a number of traditions related to Queen’s day, but the most important and enduring one seems to be wearing orange things and drinking beer all day.

Despite the fact that I live just an hour away from Amsterdam, I was reluctant to go to the Queen’s Day celebration there, because people had told me that it was too crowded, too drunken, and too filled with violence and urine as the day goes on.  But, since it’s considered one of the world’s biggest parties, and it’s in the neighborhood, I felt a certain obligation to check it out.

In fact, I found the whole thing to be extremely well-organized, good-natured, and fun.  The always practical Dutch double the length of all of the trains to and from Amsterdam and do a great job policing and directing the crowd.  While the massive quantities of beer do seem to produce a considerable amount of urine, the violence was totally absent.  Everyone was in a good mood and well-behaved.

The place to be on Queen’s Day in Amsterdam is on a boat on the canals.  That’s where all the cool kids are.  Of course, the canals are far too crowded for the boats to actually go anywhere, so essentially, they end up sitting in the same place in the canal while spectators on the bridges stare at them.

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One of the Queen’s Day traditions that is not related to orange, or beer, or orange beer, is the free market (“vrijmarkt” in Dutch), which is essentially a nationwide yard sale in which everyone in the country sells his junk to his neighbor, who presumably sells it back to him the next year.  Come to think of it, maybe this tradition does have something to do with beer.

In any event, after a sunny day filled with beer and orange, even the most skeptical populist starts to develop a soft spot for the Royals.  Which is probably just the way they want it…

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