Calendar of Annual Events in Amsterdam & Dutch Traditions

December 28, 2012 By Catriona Black and Ana Crisostomo 1 Comments

New country, new traditions! Are you constantly taken by surprise by school activities and Dutch traditions? Feel like you keep missing important events? Worry no more! We've put together this fantastic calendar to make life easier for Amsterdam Mamas. Enjoy!   

Date
English name
Dutch name
What to say
What you need to know
Monday morning
     
Dutch shops are traditionally closed on Sundays and Monday mornings, sometimes all day Monday. Though Amsterdam has moved on, it's still true for smaller towns. If you hear mention of a Koopzondag, that's a pre-assigned Sunday when shops will be open.
1st Monday of every month, at noon
Air raid siren
Luchtalarm
 
Don't be alarmed! Since 2003, some 3800 sirens are tested nationwide once a month. They're meant for any kind of disaster, and if you hear one at any other time, head indoors, close the doors and windows, and put the radio or TV on.
1 January
New Year's Day
Nieuwjaarsdag
Gelukkig Nieuwjaar! Beste wensen!
At Scheveningen, the Hague, a new tradition has taken hold. Not for the fainthearted, the Nieuwjaarsduik is a bracing swim in the North Sea. Afterwards, shivering swimmers are presented with a hot cup of Erwtensoep, a hearty, meaty pea soup.
6 January
Epiphany
Driekoningen
 
This traditional Christian holiday is not widely celebrated anymore. One mama tells us: "My oma always made a special cake with a coin and coffee bean in it. Whoever got the coin was king for the day and got to decide on the day's activities... can't remember what the finder of the coffee bean got to do... can't have appealed so much to me as a child!" Traditionally the finder of the white bean was king.
21 January
Tulip Day
Tulpendag
 
The opening of the tulip season. The Dam Square is converted into a colorful tulip garden and everyone is invited to visit and pick one tulip for free.
28 January
Chinese New Year
 
Gong Xi Fa Cai!
Amsterdam's Nieuwmarkt plays host to the Chinese New Year, with lion dances, fireworks, and Chinese drums.
26-28 February
Carnival
Carnaval
Alaaf!
The Dutch answer to Mardi Gras is celebrated mostly in Catholic South Holland, with colourful parades and some peculiar localised customs. Watch out men in Venlo: your neckties will be cut! Common to all are unbridled partying and fancy dressing.
18 March
Silent Walk
Stille Omgang
 
A silent night-time pilgrimage through Amsterdam, commemorating the Catholic "Miracle of Amsterdam" which took place on the Kalverstraat in 1345.
21 March
1st day of Spring
Voorjaar / Lente
 
 
22 March
Festival of Trees
Boomfeestdag
 
Basisschool children plant around 200,000 trees on this day, in parks, streets, squares, countryside and forests.
23 March - 21 May
Keukenhof open
 
 
Keukenhof, at Lisse, near Haarlem, opens every spring so you can wander through the woods and fields ablaze with tulips and other spring flowers.Another Christian holiday which is losing its hold. 
30 March - 10 Apri
Amsterdam Restaurant Week
 
 
Discounted prices for food and drink across town – make sure to book ahead before it sells out. Tickets available from February.
1 April
April Fool's Day

   Een-aprilfeest

 
Practical jokes have been played on this day in the Netherlands since the Middle Ages. It was also the old New Year's  Day,  until the French king Charles IX changed that to 1 January in 1852. It's also worth noting that this is the deadline for tax returns!
9 April
Palm Sunday
Palmpasen
 
The Palmpaasstok (Easter stick) is an elaborate object involving a cockerel-shaped bread roll on a cross with dangly decorations.
16 April
Easter Sunday
Eerste Paasdag
The paashaas is the ubiquitous Easter hare.
Easter is pretty much the same here as elsewhere. Decorate some boiled eggs, go on an Easter egg hunt, eat too much chocolate. In some areas the older tradition of Easter bonfires  is  still alive.
17 April

    Easter Monday

Tweede Paasdag
 
Easter Monday is known as the Second Day of Easter.
Mid April
World Press Photo
   
The world's largest photography competition kicks off every year in Amsterdam's Oude Kerk, before touring 70 countries worldwide.
19 - 23 April
Flower Parade
Bloemencorso
 
A beautiful parade of flower-decorated floats winds its way over 40km from Noordwijk to Haarlem.
26 April
King's Night
Koningsnacht
 
The drinking for Koningsdag starts here, in clubs and on the streets. There are events organised on this night to keep things under control. The Westerstraat, in the Jordaan, is the place to be.
27 April
King's Day
Koningsdag
 
Do not underestimate this one. The King's birthday is a huge excuse to party, to dress in orange from top to toe, and (with the exception of the night time boozing) a great day for children. Vrijmarkts pop up everywhere, with children setting out their stalls on pavements to sell their unwanted toys and goods. It is a much-anticipated nationwide jumble sale, and many Amsterdam mamas head to the Vondelpark.
4 May
Remembrance Day
Herdenkingsdag
 
Dutch flags fly at half mast, in memory of those who died in the Second World War. The Netherlands was occupied in May 1940 and many died in the following five years. At 20:00 there is a two-minute silence.
5 May
Liberation Day
Bevrijdingsdag
 
The flags fly high to celebrate the liberation of the Netherlands from German occupation in 5 May 1945.
13 - 14 May
National Mill Day
Nationale Molendag
 
About 600 working windmills open up to the public – look for blue pennants.
14 May
Mothers' Day
Moederdag
 
Note that this is the same date as in the USA, but not in the UK where Mother's Day falls in March or April.
25 May
Ascension Thursday
Hemelvaartsdag
 
The day Jesus ascended to heaven is still a public holiday in the Netherlands. On this day many people enjoy dauwtrappen - taking a barefoot walk in the dew before sunrise.
2 - 5 June
Taste of Amsterdam
 
 
A foodie's paradise. A culinary festival where you can try an array of international dishes surrounded by the green of the Amstel Park.
 
3 June
 
Luilak
 
This is an old tradition, still going strong in Amsterdam, where children roam the streets in the early hours to wake up sleepyheads with as much noise as possible.  Unfortunately  the general mischief can get out of hand, and result in vandalism.
3-25 June
Holland Festival
 
 
A hugely popular festival of the performing arts in  Amsterdam,  centered around music.
4 June
Pentecost
Pinksteren
 
Another Christian feast which retains its status as a public holiday, but is no longer widely celebrated.
TBA June
Dream Night at Artis
Kinderbeestfeest
 
Chronically sick and handicapped children are escorted through Amsterdam to the zoo in a cavalcade of emergency vehicles, all sirens blaring. They love it!
Early June – mid August
Vondelpark Open Air Theatre
Vondelpark Openluchttheater
 
The Vondelpark's open-air stage is always busy during the summer. Tuesday is classical music, Friday is dancing, Saturday afternoon is for kids, Saturday evenings are for stand-up and Sunday is for pop music.
Throughout May and June
 
Avondvierdaagse
 
Four evenings in a row where people – mostly schoolchildren – go on organised walks, a popular event across the Netherlands.
June, July, August
Artis Summer Evenings
Artis Zoomeravonden
 
The zoo stays open till sunset on Saturdays throughout the summer, with special events and a children's  programme  starting at  3pm  every Saturday.
16 - 18 June
Open Garden Days
Open Tuinen Dagen
 
A chance to poke your nose into normally hidden private gardens in Amsterdam, which often means walking through the houses too. Note that prams are not allowed.
18 June
Fathers' Day
Vaderdag
 
This is the same date as in the USA and UK, but not as in Australia and New Zealand where it's celebrated in September.
21 June
1st Day of Summer
Zomer
   
1 July
Keti Koti
   
This date marks the abolition of slavery in Suriname.
7 - 9 July
North Sea Jazz
   
A massive festival of jazz music based in Rotterdam.
July - August
Kwakoe
   
This five week multicultural festival in Amsterdam Bijlmerpark celebrates the abolition of slavery in Dutch colonies. Food, markets, dance and football top the bill.
28 July - 6 August
Gay Pride
   
One of the biggest and best gay pride festivals in the world, and one of Amsterdam's busiest weekends of the year. The high point is the unique canal parade on 6 August which draws big crowds.
11 - 20 August
Canal Festival
Grachtenfestival
 
A host of concerts set on or near Amsterdam's canals.
25 - 27 August
Opening of Cultural Season
Uitmarkt
 
Every year Amsterdam celebrates the opening of its cultural season with scores of free events over the course of one jam-packed weekend. Uitmarkt Junior offers shows, workshops and activities for kids.
9 - 10 September
Heritage Days
Open Monumentendagen
 
Nationwide, 4.000 historical buildings and sites open their doors free of charge, with special events laid on. The Netherlands pioneered this now Europe-wide phenomenon.
17 September
Dam to Dam
Dam tot Damloop
 
A 16km, 2-hour run from Amsterdam to Zaandam, complete with bands and a circus.
3rd Thursday in September
Teachers' Day
Nationale Leidsterdag
 
All the teachers in childcare share the same "birthday" on this day, and the children bring them little presents, often home-made. The date of Juffendag varies across schools.
20 September
Prince's Day
Prinsjesdag
 
On this day the monarch reads out the parliamentary program for the coming year, and the national budget is also revealed.
21 September
1st Day of Autumn
Najaar / Herfst
 
Creative pumpkin arrangements appear in front gardens in the  autumn,  and last for months in the cold weather.
From late September
Children's Stamp Campaign
Kinderpostzegelactie
 
Groep 7&8 children from basisschool go door to door taking orders for charity children's stamps and cards, delivering them in November. This has been an annual event since 1948 and attracts 2.5 million orders every year.
4 - 15 October
Children's Book Week
Kinderboekenweek
 
This initiative, designed to get children into books, has been going since 1954. Every year has a different theme, and school children across the land work on related projects. Don't miss the fancy dress day.
4 October
World Animal Day
Dierendag
 
Look out for special events, and your children might be encouraged to take a pet or soft toy to school with them.
14 - 20 October
Cinekid
   
A film, television and new media festival for children from 4 to 14 years old. Mostly in Amsterdam, but it does hold satellite events across the Netherlands.
15 October
Amsterdam Marathon
   
Watch out on marathon day, it's almost impossible to get in or out of the city.
End of October
Spooktacular Parade
   
Halloween is not a Dutch tradition, although it's catching on. Amsterdam Mamas have started their own annual event, a morning fancy dress walk through the Vondelpark and a trick or treating route in the evening. Do register for this event.
2 November
All Souls in the Vondelpark
Allerzielen in het Vondelpark
 
Light a candle in the dark, and float it across the water in memory of a loved one.
4 November
Museum Night
Museumnacht
Be cool and call it "n8"
One ticket gets you entry to parties and events at 50 museums around Amsterdam from 7pm to 2am.
11 - 18 November
Glow Festival
   
Eindhoven is a blaze of glory in this annual festival of artificial lights.
11 November
St Martin's
Sint-Maarten
 
Nearing dark, in some areas of the Netherlands children go door to door with their paper lampionen (lanterns), singing special Sint-Maarten songs in exchange for sweets. If they make the lanterns at school, make sure to buy a cheap lampionstokje – a stick with dangly bulb – from your supermarket, and don't forget some batteries. In Amsterdam, there's a special children's lantern parade in the Vondelpark.
18 November
 
Intocht van Sinterklaas
 
Sinterklaas (St Nicholas) arrives with his white horse (Amerigo), and scores of Pieten (Petes - Sinterklaas's helpers), on a steamboat from Spain. This happens in many different towns during the same weekend. Crowds of kids turn out for the spectacle, and the Pieten shower them with pepernoten – small gingernut-style biscuits, ubiquitous at this time of year. Sinterklaas is like Santa Claus, but the Dutch insist the two men are totally different. The Sinterklaas story is that he is a saint from Turkey (or Spain - opinions defer). 
From Intocht to Pakjesavond
     
Once Sinterklaas has arrived in the country, children put their shoes out at nighttime, at the fireplace, radiator or by the door, sometimes with a little carrot for Amerigo and almost always a letter or drawing for Sint and Piet. Some children do it every night, though many parents restrict it to weekends. In the morning Piet will have left them a little treat such as chocolate. Some naughty Piets make a mess and leave pepernoten everywhere.
2nd half November
International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA)
   
Held in various venues across Amsterdam, the IDFA is the biggest documentary film festival in the world.
2nd half November
Turn on the Lights, Bijenkorf
   
Amsterdam's luxury department store opens the festive season with a spectacular evening of lights, street theatre and shopping.
5 December
 
Sinterklaas: pakjesavond
 
As darkness falls, Sinterklaas rides his white pony across the sky, and a Piet drops down your chimney with presents. Parents with no chimneys have figured out other ways to do it: somebody knocks at the back door, for example. Your children open it, only to find a trail of pepernoten, at the end of which is a sack full of presents. Adults don't get presents at this time of year, but can expect little surprises and poems from others in the family. And if you have older children at basisschool, watch out for the "surprise" they might be asked to make for a fellow classmate: you are expected to throw yourself into this big-time.
December - January
Amsterdam Light Festival
   
A new annual event, lighting up the centre of the city with a special walking route, a program of events, and a Christmas Canal Parade.
Beginning of December
Vintage Santa Tram Ride
   
Organised by Amsterdam Mamas, this popular family ride through the Amsterdamse Bos sells out quickly, so watch out for details in early November.
Mid-December
Gouda by Candlelight
Gouda Kaarsjesavond
 
All the electric lights are off in Gouda's medieval marketplace, as ten thousand candles burn. Carols are sung and the Christmas story is read.
21 December
1st Day of Winter
Winter
   
25 December
Christmas Day
De Eerste Kerstdag
Prettige Kerstdagen!
The Christmas trees can go up once Sinterklaas is over. Christmas in the Netherlands is not traditionally about presents for the children, who've already been catered for by Sinterklaas. Christmas Day is a day for the family to spend together at home, but dinner can be less ambitious than in other countries; most Dutch ovens won't accommodate a turkey!
26 December
Boxing Day
De Tweede Kerstdag
The second day of Christmas is often reserved for a family day out, for example visiting friends, or shopping. Trips to the circus are popular at this time of year. Collectively, the two days of Christmas are Kerstdagen.
31 December
New Year's Eve
Oudejaarsavond (Oud en Nieuw)
 
Fireworks, fireworks, fireworks. The law allows fireworks only from 10am on New Year's Eve until 2am, but as one mama says, "I don't know that words can do it justice. For those who have young kids and are new to the country, it might be useful to know that fireworks start going off days (& nights!) in advance." It's traditional to eat oliebollen and appelbeignets: deep-fried doughnut-like balls with fruit inside, available from special kiosks which appear on the streets during the festive season.

* Please note that dates are to the best of our knowledge, and may not be totally accurate for each year.


This article was originally written by Catriona Black, and updated for 2017 by Tasneem Mohamedbhai.

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