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Dutch royal party mingles with the crowds during Queen’s Day festivities

New Jersey police attend for look at Dutch security

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

WOUDRICHEM, the Netherlands – Three policemen on an exchange from New Jersey to observe Dutch security methods to protect their leaders, likely returned home bewildered and perhaps a little amazed. The Americans witnessed the colourful national Queens Day celebrations that, despite the Pim Fortuyn and Theodore Van Gogh murders, have not thrown up any apparent barriers between the public and their very popular royal family.

This year, the Dutch royal family visited old Brabant fortress cities Woudrichem and s-Hertogenbosch for several hours each where they did everything from attending official functions to participating in ‘spontaneous’ activities, such as a royal rope pulling contest and games. At Woudrichem, the royal entourage watched a couple give their ‘I dos’ at a staged traditional farmers’ wedding feast (the real wedding took place a day later), marveled at eight church choirs giving a combined performance and walked through the historic city. Later, Crown Prince Willem-Alexander agreed to be blind-folded for a laughter-filled attempt at snapping a dangling fish with his mouth (a slice of breakfast cake is the more traditional but is not as amusing a target). After a few futile attempts, he prematurely pulled off the blind-fold. Another participating prince played tricks on a sister-in-law when it was her turn, pulling away the fish just when she was about to snap it.

The New Jersey police saw members of the royal family spontaneously mingle with the crowd when called over by spectators. A father managed to get a royal “happy birthday” for his daughter and a girl called the Crown Prince over to present him with a bag filled with pencils and crayons for his toddler daughters. The girl was not the only one bearing gifts for the royalty. Other children proudly gave him the artwork from their drawing class.

The royal party arrived in Brabant’s capital city by canal boat, passing the fortress where the military prowess of seventeenth-century commander Prince Frederik Hendrik was being shown in an exhibit. Not only the venues reminded the Americans of the fortress’s long history. In s-Hertogenbosch many of the strange characters seem to have walked right off the canvasses of famous son and sixteenth-century artist Jeroen Bosch to mingle with the crowds of onlookers and the royal party.


In another street, near the city’s cathedral, a group of deaf children spoke with Princess Laurentien, a daughter-in-law of Queen Beatrix’s sister Margriet, who has mastered sign language. The other children watched the animated conversation in awe.

The police hardly could have controlled the scene in one street where upon the arrival of the royal party, stereo boom boxes suddenly blasted out South American music for a performance of a tango dance group. The princes and princesses in the royal party, including Princess Margriet and her husband Peter, were not onlookers for long, and promptly joined the troupe, watched by the crowd and hundreds of thousands of television viewers throughout the country. Queen Beatrix patiently waited on the sidelines till her dust-kicking party was out of breath.

‘I got him’

In another street, a policeman rushed to free Prince Maurits from a tight grip by a strong-armed woman who at the top of her voice yelled, ‘I got him, I got him.’ When he saw that the prince was playing along with the woman and was in no danger, the policeman pulled back.

The royal visit concluded on the city’s market square with a few remarks by Queen Beatrix, in which she reminded the nation that her family actually is celebrating four birthdays: the birth earlier in April of granddaughter Ariane, that of Prince Willem-Alexander, her own, and of course that of her brother-in-law Peter.

The crowds at Woudrichem (estimated at 15,000) and at Den Bosch (60,000) were dwarfed however by the huge throngs that converged on Amsterdam where hundreds of thousands gathered for the traditional free market.

Unmatched in Europe

Among European monarchies, the Dutch exuberance during Queen’s Day is quite unique. Nowhere else are the festivities nation-wide, and involving the public on such a broad scale.

The Queen’s Day earlier fell on August 31, Queen Wilhelmina’s birthday, when local Orange societies would organize their local festivities. Since the ascent of Queen Juliana in 1948, the festivities have been held on April 30, coinciding with her birthday. Queen Beatrix announced on her inauguration day that April 30 would remain Queen’s Day in honour of her mother, even though her own birthday is January 31.

Belgium: No public festivities, although it is possible that the birthday of Queen-Mother Paola will merit extra attention on the national holiday of July 21. She turns 70 this year.

Denmark: On April 16 the royal family makes an appearance at midday, at the balcony of their palace. The guard salutes Queen Margrethe while the lunch crowd sings the anthem.

Great Britain: Queen Elizabeth prefers to celebrate her birthday on April 21 with a private dinner. It is a bit more extravagant on the second Saturday of June which is the Queen’s Official Birthday. Then a military parade, Trooping the Colour, takes place but there are no other festivities.

Liechtenstein: Prince Hans Adam II kept his father’s “Staatsfreiertag” on August 15 when the day starts with Mass and a formal address by the prince. The public is welcome to beer at the palace gardens. Other festivities and fireworks in the capital.

Luxembourg: Annual festivities in the grand duchy somewhat mirror the Dutch experience. Grand duke Henry holds his festivities on June 23 when he visits a village in his realm, where a parade is held and Mass is celebrated. The entire country celebrates the day.

Monaco: Prince Albert kept the national day of his father. Mass is celebrated, parliament holds a special session and there is a ‘royal’ appearance at the balcony of the palace.

Norway: On May 17, the national day, the constitution and independence (from Sweden), are the focus of attention. This year, King Harald shares in the attention due to his 70th birthday. Queen Sonja also turns 70 this year.

Spain: Columbus Day on October 12 is the national holiday when each region has its own celebrates as well. Columbus Day includes a military parade, a reception and activities throughout Madrid but nothing like the Dutch model.

Sweden: King Carl Gustaf has his birthday on April 30. The crowd gathered at the palace will sing for him while children will present flowers and presents. Crown princess Victoria holds her own festivities on Oland Island on July 14.