The Dutch are extremely fond of their king (and queen). In fact, the Dutch royal family has always been very popular, and their birthdays are celebrated with enthusiasm. Since King Willem-Alexander's crowning in 2013, the Netherlands now celebrate a King's Day, after centuries of having a Queen's Day (since 1898!). King's Day is celebrated on King Willem-Alexander's official birthday, 27 April.
People traditionally celebrate King's Day either by visiting one of the two towns or cities the king and queen visit on the day (which are different each year), or by going to one of the bigger cities. Amsterdam and Utrecht in particular go all out on this day with huge flea markets filling city-centre streets. In Utrecht, King's Day actually starts the night before. Stands run by young and old sell anything and everything. Many other towns and cities also have a Free Market (Vrijmarkt), a great opportunity for bargain hunters and antique buffs.
A day of great national significance, 4 May is the day when Dutch victims of war are remembered. Special tribute is paid to civilians and members of the armed forces who fell in the Second World War, and to all Dutch nationals who have lost their lives since in other wars or in peace operations. Unlike most countries, the Netherlands does not mark the occasion with grand military parades. At 20:00, a two-minute silence is observed nationally. People stop whatever they are doing (often pulling their cars over to the side of the road) to honour the dead.
In Amsterdam, special wreaths are placed at the national monument in Dam Square by the Queen and other dignitaries for civilians who died in Europe between 1940 and 1945. Flags are hung at half mast throughout the country.
Following the sober commemorations of 4 May, the Dutch celebrate their total liberation from German occupation on 5 May 1945. Flags are hung at full mast and the streets take on a festive look.
An open-air concert in Amsterdam ends the day. Traditionally held on the Amstel River and broadcast live on television, the concert takes place in the presence of the King and members of the government.
The typical Dutch personality called Sinterklaas, or St. Nicholas, will be familiar to anyone whose Christmas celebrations include a white-bearded, red-clothed male figure who gives presents to children.
Throughout the centuries, Sinterklaas has been considered the patron saint of children, as well as of traders. Consequently, on 5 December he brings children gifts that are discreetly dropped off in a sack on the doorstep of each household.
During the evening, families exchange small gifts, normally hidden somewhere or in something. Besides looking for and opening presents, people drink hot chocolate and eat special sweets and pastries. Chocolate letters representing the first letter of the recipient's name are exchanged.
Despite the initial similarities with Santa Claus, Sinterklaas lives in Spain, not at the North Pole. Santa Claus flies in from the North Pole on his sleigh, but Sinterklaas and his white horse arrive in the Netherlands from Spain on a steamboat. Santa Claus squeezes up and down chimneys delivering gifts, but Sinterklaas has a whole crew of helpers named Zwarte Pieten, or Black Petes, to do that for him.
Christmas Day is normally reserved for religious observances and family gatherings, increasingly combined with gift-giving. The day after Christmas on 26 December, Boxing Day, is also a holiday in the Netherlands. Many people go to afternoon concerts or musicals and have dinner with friends or more distant family members.
During the evening of New Year's Eve, families and friends gather together at home shortly after midnight deafening waves of fireworks explosions, bangs, whizzing and sounds resembling machine-gun fire rock the air all at once. Many compare the experience to being in a war zone. The noise lasts for about an hour, but sporadic bangs can be heard throughout the night and into the next day.
Except for those last few fireworks, New Year's Day is quiet, and the streets are blanketed in burnt dark red wrappers from the approximately €65 million worth of fireworks that went up in smoke the night before.