During King’s Day most people are given the day off and use their time to party on the streets. Events are held throughout the Netherlands and larger cities organize impressive programs that include massive outdoor music festivals and boat parties that channel through the country’s many canal rings. King’s Day also means the Vrijmarkt, a nationwide flea market that allows citizens to sell their second-hand belongings from the sidewalk without a permit.
The holiday began as a means to unite the Netherlands around a popular monarch. While her father’s reign was poorly received, the young Princess Wilhelmina (1880-1962) captured the nation’s hearts. Realizing this, the government established Prinsessendag (Princesses Day) and held a parade on Wilhelmina’s fifth birthday. This small celebration grew into an annual event and when the princess acceded to the throne the holiday’s name was changed to Koninginnedag (Queen’s Day).
Wilhelmina’s reign lasted almost 70 years. She was succeeded by her daughter, Queen Juliana, in 1948. The Netherlands observed Queen’s Day throughout her reign and continued to uphold the tradition after the crown passed to Queen Beatrix in 1980. On Queen’s Day 2013, this beloved monarch decided to hand the throne to her son, Willem-Alexander, who was inaugurated inside Amsterdam’s Nieuwe Kerk during the festivities. As Willem-Alexander was the first male sovereign since the national holiday began, Queen’s Day was appropriately renamed King’s Day.
Today, the royal family spend their King’s Day visiting towns and cities throughout the Netherlands, meeting citizens, and participating in the celebrations.