Every year a bright orange glow emits from the Netherlands on April 29 and 30, Queen’s Night and Queen’s Day, national holidays featuring street festivals, music, dancing, and canals clogged with boatloads of revelers, all festooned in bright orange, red, white and blue – as only the Dutch can do! But this year the glow was probably visible from space, as Queen Beatrix abdicated after 33 years in favor of her son, Willem-Alexander; the first king since 1890, and at age 46, Europe’s youngest monarch.
Queen’s Night found me with classmates in Amsterdam on a boat, passing many other boats of all descriptions, each a self-contained party planet filled with happy revelers waving as they cruised along the galaxy of canals. After disembarking, we made our way to the train station, dancing on every street corner, walking through crowds so thick we had to hold on to each other to not get lost. We found Amsterdam Centraal station surprisingly manageable, with plenty of room on the train back to Utrecht – only to find Utrecht Centraal a sea of orange coming and going from the city center, which was also abuzz with Queen’s Night celebrations!
On Queen’s Day in Utrecht, the streets were closed to traffic and clogged with people attending concerts, picnics, and, of course the “Vrijmarkt,” basically, the largest 24-hour flea market in Europe. It is the only day in the year when everyone is allowed to sell whatever they want, wherever they want, with no license required or tax imposed. You can spend all day happily seeking treasure in another’s junk. There is something peculiarly Dutch about celebrating the monarch’s birthday with a national yard sale!
The investiture was a blend of the traditional and the modern. In a non-religious ceremony (held in a church), Willem-Alexander (not Willem IV) swore to support the country and the members of parliament, who in turn each swore to support the King – with or a without religious oath, according to preference. It is not a coronation but an inauguration; the crown (which is gilded silver and contains no jewels) is not placed on the monarch’s head but on a table, along with the scepter and a copy of the constitution. Willem-Alexander expressed that he wished to build upon tradition but also be a “21st-century king who can unite, represent and encourage society.” His wife, the popular Queen Maxima, is an Argentinian commoner who endeared herself to the Dutch with her whole-hearted immersion in the language and culture of her new county. The couple and their children concluded the festivities with a boat cruise, at one point leaving their boat to join DJ Armin van Buuren on stage at a concert.
Watching the ceremony on a large outdoor video screen in Utrecht city center, I thought of my grandmother, who carried photos of the crown-princes as though they were her own grandchildren. When I was a child in the USA, she would show me photos of then-baby Prince Willem-Alexander and tell me that one day, he would my king. She doted over the reign of three beloved queens: Wilhelmina, Juliana, and Beatrix. And so I carried her memory with me as I celebrated the events. She would have been quite pleased, and perhaps even more so with the fact that the next in line to throne is the eldest of three daughters, Catherine Amalia. Long live the King – with the promise of more Queen’s Days to come!