Today, Amsterdam is awash in a sea of orange as the Dutch celebrate Queen’s Day as they have for over 100 years. Making this one extraordinary, however, is the abdication of Queen Beatrix and the accession to the throne of Prince Willem-Alexander, who will become the first King of the Netherlands in nearly that same span of time.
In fact, when Willem-Alexander was born in 1967, he was the first male heir born to the House of Orange since 1851 when Prince Alexander was born to King William III. Alexander and his older brothers, however, all died before the unpopular William, who in his later years had a daughter by a second marriage. Everyone loves a royal baby, so to promote social unity, the first Prinsessedag was held to honor the young Wilhelmina on her birthday in August 1885 and continued until 1890 when William died and she inherited the throne, changing the festival to Koninginnedag, or Queen’s Day. The tradition continued with Wilhelmina’s daughter Juliana, whose birthday was in April, and Juliana’s daughter Beatrix who kept the April date to honor her mother. Plus, the weather is better in April than on her own birthday in January.
Still reeling from World War II, when Beatrix married a German the Dutch people protested the wedding and held demonstrations on subsequent Queen’s Days until officials opened the Amsterdam Centrum to the free market that had historically been held on the fringes and obviated further unrest in the streets. For decades now the festivities have continued with markets in the plazas and revelry along the alleyways and canals of Amsterdam in addition to the two cities the Queen visits every year to mark the occasion. Today, Beatrix abdicates to her son, and the national holiday will become Koningsdag in 2014, or King’s Day, celebrated on Willem-Alexander’s birthday April 27.
How can you celebrate Queen’s Day here in Houston? Well, we don’t have a Dutch pub¹ per se, but you can certainly arrange a plate of bittergarnituur, or pub snacks like Dutch cheeses, sausage, fried croquettes, and the like. The name comes from their traditionally accompanying “bitters,” or alcohol like Dutch jenever, the precursor to traditional London dry gin. I know Down House has a whole section on their spirit menu of Dutch jenevers, both jonge and oude, and I’m sure finer cocktail establishments around town would have some as well. Dutch beers, however, are widely distributed here, with the likes of Heineken, Amstel, and Grolsch readily available in virtually any bar. Conveniently, Tuesdays happen to be Dutch Beer Day at Onion Creek, when Heineken and Amstel are just $2. Some people don’t care for these Dutch beers though, finding them a bit skunky, many blaming the green glass of the bottles. While I can attest that a Heinie does indeed taste better on draft at a bar in Rotterdam, for example, here they still make a respectable toast to the Queen. Or, if you’re lucky, you have a stash of Dutch craft beer like Brouwerij de Molen. Sorry, I don’t have enough to go around.
Whatever you do, get out there, don your finest orange threads, and say Proost! for Queen’s Day and to the health of the King. But enjoy King’s Day while you can: Willem-Alexander has three daughters.
¹Trust me, the Dutchman over by Petrol Station doesn’t count.