King’s Day Anyway
The Dutch sky hadn’t decided if it was going to rain or not when I snuck out of the hotel around six in the morning. The student staff of the best hotel in Delft watched me go with only mild surprise; they’re used to tour guides doing strange things. Luckily, all my tour members were still asleep, so I didn’t need to explain that I might not have enough money to finish the tour and needed to find an ATM immediately.
I’d planned to get cash in Amsterdam that evening, if not at the Keukenhof Gardens that morning, but a thought popped in right as I was falling asleep the night before. What if enough banks were closed and ATM’s maxed out that I couldn’t withdraw money? Normally that wouldn’t be at all likely in so industrious and functional a nation as The Netherlands, but that day all the rules were open to question, and no normals were to be expected.
You see, it was King’s Day.
First celebrated in 1885 as Princess Day to mark the birthday of the heir presumptive, the celebration has evolved since then to match the title and birthday of the current monarch. (Except for the kind-hearted Queen Beatrix, who kept the celebration on the balmier April 30 instead of her actual birthday, the reliably freezing January 31.) The Netherlands currently has a king and today is his birthday, meaning it’s also the anniversary of my cash-seeking race across Delft.
The sun wasn’t quite up yet, but in the steel wool light I saw another of the hallmarks of King’s Day. For at least a week, large squares of sidewalk had been demarcated with masking tape and names where local residents had claimed their spot for the annual nationwide garage sale, and now they were filling them in. With everything. Stuffed animals, clothes, toys, puzzles, model ships, musical instruments, paintings, on and on. The variety and concentration made the most boisterous markets of Southeast Asia look predictable.
The Keukenhof Gardens that day were a bonanza of bright colors, but that’s always true during their famous tulip season. The more astonishing color waited for us in Amsterdam.
The Dutch royal house is a treasure trove of trivia, one of the most notable being their ancestral link with the house of Orange (despite the fact that those lands are now in southeastern France). I say “notable” deliberately, since anyone who’s seen photos of Queen/King’s Day will have noted the color’s presence. Orange shirts are just the beginning. Orange trousers? Of course. Scarves, gloves, vests, and hats? Most likely. Ebullient wigs, face paint, and feather boas? Now you’re catching on. Find orange contact lenses and someone’ll buy you a beer for sure.
I confess to a bit of snark around color days in the high school sense, and expressions of patriotism always make my soul nervous, but the Dutch good spirit and utterly affable nature are far too genuine and tangible for anything to mar the delight of a nation of fun people having a great day together. I took my tour for a meander through the capital and gave them each ten euros with which to find the best sidewalk sale knickknack they could. A set of ancient wood ice skates was the winner, though we had less entrants than I expected. Honestly I think most of us were absorbed (to the point of overwhelmed in some cases) by the universal party we’d all been invited to.
Had this year gone as expected, I would have finished a tour in Amsterdam yesterday and spent today delighting in the Dutch spirit. Assuming I could have found a hotel room in time! Instead, all those hotel rooms are even emptier than the streets of that beloved city as it too buckles down under quarantine, and I feel a sadness for that silence.
But the Dutch are not the kind of people to be bogged down. A nation of eyes-up, smile-on, how are you today friends-to-be, I’ve been treated to a deluge of Kings Day Anyway photos, complete with orange wigs and heartfelt grins.
Who says we have to be sad, just because things are tough? I’ll take the Dutch path today, wish you all a very happy King’s Day, and go put on something orange. And a smile.