Sunday, 17 March 2013

Bringing your cake and eating it, too

Certain occasions celebrated the world over have a distinctly different flavor in the Netherlands. Take birthdays. The standard birthday greeting, “hartelijk gefeliciteerd met je verjaardag!” does not translate into “happy birthday!” Rather, it means “hearty congratulations for your birthday!” Not a celebration of your birth, but congratulations for surviving another year? Upon reflection perhaps not a bad sentiment! And, not only are you supposed to congratulate the person whose birthday it is, but also that person’s family and friends! Another difference is that at birthday parties the honoree, rather than being feted and served, scrambles around serving guests with drinks and snacks. In fact, at birthday parties and in workplace and school birthday celebrations, the honoree is expected to bring his or her own birthday cake. Which is then served by the honoree to the guests – with luck the honoree will get to eat it, too!   

A traditional “verjaardagskalender” helps in remembering birthdays. Like a normal calendar, there is a page for each month. But instead of each page containing blocks of weeks and days, the days are listed vertically with a line next to each in which you inscribe the names of people born on that day. Since they are yearless, you can keep using the calendar year after year, continually adding names. The original birthday app! You will never find a Dutch W.C. without one. (Why the W.C.? Who knows! This is a Dutch bathroom mystery in the same category as why is the toilet always located in a different room (the W.C.) than the bathroom, and why do sinks in W.C.’s have only cold water?)  

There are traditional special birthdays, like “crown birthdays” at ages 5, 10, 15, 20, 21. But best of all is the “Sarah birthday,” celebrating a woman’s 50th birthday. (“Abraham birthday” for a man.) This celebration honors a woman’s age and hard-earned wisdom; a major event to look forward to, not the usual “over the hill” birthday celebrated in the USA and elsewhere. Traditional Sarah birthday celebrations entail a Sarah cake in the shape of the female figure, a Sarah doll in the front yard dressed or decorated by family, and visits by guests and well-wishers dressed as Sarahs.  

And then there is the most celebrated birthday of the year, Koninginnedag – Queen’s Day! Queen’s Day is celebrated on April 30, which was Queen Juliana’s birthday. Queen’s Day began in 1891 to celebrate Queen Wilhelmina’s eighteenth birthday, which was in August. It was rescheduled to April 30 to commemorate Queen Juliana’s coronation on her birthday. Queen Beatrix, whose birthday is in January, continued the April 30 tradition to honor her mother but perhaps also in recognition that January is not the best time to hold the largest outdoor celebrations of the year!  

This year will be the last Queen's Day in that Queen Beatrix is going to abdicate in favor of her son, who will be crowned King Willem-Alexander on April 30. It will then become King’s Day, and as his birthday is on April 27, no reason to change the date!  I wonder though, as we all offer each other congratulations on the King’s birthday, will he have to bring his own cake to the party and will he get to eat it?

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