Due to the measures taken amid the corona crisis, on 27 April the Netherlands celebrated king Willem-Alexander’s 53rd birthday at home. The national holiday, a tradition that has been practiced for more than a century, was held mostly indoors throughout the country. It was the warmest 27 April since the king took office in 2013, and although free markets and massive celebrations were banned in public spaces, the Dutch managed to celebrate the holiday from home and online.
This has been the first King’s Day (formerly Queen’s Day) celebration at home. Held for the first time to celebrate then-princess Wilhelmina’s fifth birthday in 1885, the holiday has celebrated the birthdays of four regents throughout Dutch history: queen Wilhelmina until 1948; queen Juliana until 1980; queen Beatrix until 2013, and now king Willem-Alexander as the first male regent since Willem III. With the exception of the German occupation during WWII, when celebrations were prohibited, the holiday has remained a yearly national celebration, even in years with disturbances like the 2009 attack on the Royal Family in Apeldoorn. In 2020, for the first time, celebrations were taken from the streets and into the houses, balconies, gardens and neighbourhoods of the Dutch, who, regardless of the circumstances, managed to celebrate with traditional games, food and decoration.
The original 2020 King’s Day plan, which included the Royal Family visiting Maastricht, was exchanged for a mostly on-line program and small-scale celebrations in the neighbourhoods, always observing the 1.5-meter distancing rule. The day started with the bells ringing across the country to signal the start of the festivities, followed by members of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra live-streaming the Wilhelmus, the Dutch national anthem, from their homes at 10:00 a.m. sharp. They were joined by people all through the country playing and singing the anthem in their homes and gardens.
Then king Willem-Alexander, accompanied by his wife queen Máxima and their daughters Catharina-Amalia, Alexia and Ariane, addressed the country from their home to welcome everybody to the festivities, to thank the Royal Orchestra and all the event organizers, and to celebrate that although everybody should remain at home, maybe separated from loved ones, everyone yet stood together. The king also wished for it to be the very last King’s Day at home and took a special opportunity to thank all the healthcare professionals for their work during the pandemic and their treatment of Covid-19 patients. He stressed that all people should show respect to them by obeying social distancing measures and celebrating separated, but together.
Around the country people decorated their houses and neighbourhoods in orange and indulged in Oranjegekte (Orange Madness), the festive spirit that accompanies national celebrations. Many shared their at-home celebration online with loved ones and on social media through hashtags like #Koningsdagthuis, #Woningsdag (At Home day), #Koningsdag2020 and #BlijfThuis (Stay at home). All through the day, concerts took place through live-streaming from artists’ balconies in what was called “Balkoningsdag”. The vrijmarkt, the traditional flea markets in streets and parks where anyone can sell anything, were replaced by online ones like VrijMarktplaats, organized by major second-hand website Marktplaats. At home, people ate oranje tompoucen (puff pastries with orange icing) and drank oranjebitter (a traditional orange liqueur), and played koekhappen (bite-the-cake) and spijkerpoepen (nail-pooping), a traditional game that has as objective placing a nail, attached to the pants of the player with a rope, into a beer bottle with a squat-like movement.
The police reported that the King’s Day at home celebrations went smoothly throughout the country, with only 65 people fined during the day, and 309 the night before, when traditional King’s Night festivities usually take place. At a moment when, according to a survey by NOS, king Willem-Alexander is more popular than at any time since he took office, the majority of the country got involved in the 2020 celebrations, and accomplished to do so from their homes.
At 4:00 p.m. King Willem-Alexander and his family met with friends and family, including former queen Beatrix, through an on-line video call for the National Toast and to sing the Lang zal hij leven birthday song. During the toast, the king once more thanked all who keep the Netherlands running in such bizarre times, and wished everyone a very nice King’s Day. “Enjoy the day and enjoy the sun,” he concluded.
Written by Juan Álvarez Umbarila