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king’s day

The Netherlands: And the King’s birthday celebrations

king's day
The streets were crowded with people and their unwanted belongings. King’s day is the only day when it’s legal for anyone to be a street seller.

Looking out of the apartment window, on the evening of the 26th April in the Netherlands, I could see teenage boys in hoodies washing the street. This is not quite as friendly or community minded as it sounds. The marks they were washing away were the names of other Dutch children. The territorial battle ready for the day ahead: the king’s birthday.

So the next morning, I awoke to the sound of young girls singing American cheerleading songs. I assumed they were also dancing, but they were down on the street, and I was up in the apartment sleeping so I couldn’t see.

So why a territorial battle and cheerleaders?

The 27th April is King’s Day. Or at least that’s what the English language marketing calls it. It’s the celebration of the Dutch King’s birthday. There’s occasionally some confusion with tourists as for a long-time Queen’s Day was on the 30th April and older guide books will quote this date. To make matters more confusing, the 30th April wasn’t really the Queen’s birthday, it was her mother’s birthday. The Queen’s actual birthday is mid-winter, but moving the festivities from the end of April (where they had been previously) to mid-winter wouldn’t have been good for a celebration that typically takes place out on the streets.

Suitably prepared, I wore my orange dress

Which was borrowed of course, because orange is not a participant in my wardrobe. By the time I’d dressed and eaten my breakfast, the cheerleaders had run out of puff. Their chanting gave way to the quaint tune of the barrel organ.

Meanwhile, the children who weren’t pom-pom aficionados had brought out their old toys, clothes and other belongings and were flogging them to one another.

king's day
You had to walk slowly through the streets to marvel at the contents of people’s lives.

King’s day is the only day where anyone can sell stuff on the street

People crowded the streets. I cooed over Spot books by Eric Hill (I learnt to draw by copying pictures of Spot – Dribble in Dutch). And saw a pair of old fashioned ice skating blades. The sort you tie to the base of your boots.

If you wanted kitchen equipment, old videos or a satellite dish, you could have found what you were looking for. It was like a car-boot sale on mats on the street.

A girl arduously playing her cello impressed me. I tossed her a few coins to keep her spirits up. She played well, and for the briefest of moments, I wanted a go.

Mostly though, the displays made me think of all my excess belongings

Many of which I haven’t touched for a decade. I can’t help but think I might have got something out of trying to sell them when I was younger in such a fashion. There’s got to be some good bargaining and money management skills learnt in such an environment. And I liked that the children were both benefiting and working for their toys.

But most of all, I liked that in a culture where throwing stuff away is the easy norm, this second-hand stuff was getting a new leash of life.

What toys and games could you put on your mat?