In this article I provide a list of national, public and other holidays in the Netherlands. I tell what is celebrated and how the Dutch celebrate. It gives you a glimpse into Dutch culture. With this information you can adjust your travel schedule accordingly and it is also useful to know that opening hours of shops or attractions may differ.
Although religion is not really on the surface in the Netherlands nowadays, the Netherlands has a long Christian history. This means that most of the holidays in the Netherlands originated from Christianity. Due to the increasingly multicultural society In the Netherlands there are also more and more holidays celebrated from other religions. For example the Chinese New Year and the Sugar Feast at the end of Ramadan. To limit the length of the list, I focus in this article on the official public holidays and the most visible festivities.
Carnival – 22 to 25 February 2020
Carnival is a regional holiday that is celebrated in the areas and cities that have traditionally been Catholic. These places are mainly in the southern provinces of the country: North Brabant and Limburg, but also in the middle and east of the country there are some villages where Carnival is an annual event.
Carnival used to be the start of a 40-day Lent for Easter. Nowadays it is a festival where people dress up and disguise and they let go of social roles and social norms. The carnival weekend is filled with parades, music, dances, costumes and local traditions.
When you are in the Netherlands during this period, it is good to know that daily life is disrupted in the cities where carnival is celebrated. It is fun to go see a parade.
Good Friday – 10 April 2020
On Good Friday (goede vrijdag), Christians in the Netherlands remember the crucifixion of Jesus. It is a day of prayer for observant Christians and a holiday for some people. Schools are closed and a number of businesses are closed, but most of the public life goes as normal. Some Dutch people who have Good Friday and Easter Monday off work take a short trip or vacation.
Easter – 12 & 13 April 2020
Easter Sunday and Easter Monday are public holidays. It is seen as a Christian holiday, but in reality it also originated from the Jewish and Germanic religions. With Easter the resurrection of Jesus is celebrated, but from the Germanic influences it is primarily a celebration of the beginning of spring. Observant Christians will attend a church service. In addition, Easter has many more traditions and activities.
Many Dutch people start Easter with an extensive breakfast, in which eggs play a major role as a symbol of fertility and spring. Egg searching is a tradition that many families do; looking for chocolate eggs that the Easter Bunny has hidden. And painting eggs is also an Easter tradition. In the east of the country it is a tradition to light large Easter fires. And for the festival lovers: every year in the Easter weekend there is a major pop festival called ‘Paaspop’.
At Easter most businesses close with the exception of some recreational ones and public transport runs to a special timetable. In recent years we see that more and more stores are open on Easter Monday. Furniture shopping or going to the garden center has become also a real Easter Monday activity.
King’s Day – 27 April
On King’s Day (Koningsdag) we celebrate the birthday of King Willem-Alexander on April 27. It is an exuberant party with a casual atmosphere. Everything and everyone in the whole country is decorated in the color orange, the national color of the Netherlands.
Until 2013, Queen Beatrix reigned and King’s Day was called Queen’s Day and was held on 30 April. With outdated travel information you can be surprised that the party is already over.
There are flea markets throughout the country and pop festivals are organized in major cities. If you are in the Netherlands during this period you cannot go around King’s Day. I definitely recommend taking a look at the festivities. Be aware of large crowds, especially in big cities when the weather is nice. Public transport can also become overcrowded.
Every year the royal family visits a certain city or village. It is a day filled with activities where the royals celebrate together with the people. If you want to spot the royal family in 2020, you can visit Maastricht.
King’s Day is a national holiday. Most people have a day off and many businesses are closed. Shops often adjust their opening times and public transport operates according to an adjusted timetable.
National Remembrance Day – 4 May
This is a kind of sad day because every year on the 4th of May at 8 p.m the Dutch commemorate the dead with two minutes of silence. The original commemoration was about the Dutch victims in the Second World War, but later a broader definition was used that includes all Dutch war victims or those who died since the outbreak of the Second World War.
The National Remembrance Day is not a public holiday, people do not get a day off. But many stores or companies close earlier so that the commemoration can be attended at 8 p.m. Events and public transportation are often paused for 2 minutes.
The largest communal commemoration takes place on Dam Square in Amsterdam, where the royal family is also present. But throughout the country communal commemorations are organized.
Liberation Day – 5 May 2020
The cheerful counterpart of the Remembrance Day is Liberation Day. On this day we celebrate the liberation of the German occupation during the second world war. On this day we also pay extra attention to freedom, democracy and human rights. 2020 is a special year because we celebrate 75 years of freedom. On Liberation Day there are 14 pop festivals and some concerts in a number of major cities throughout the country.
Although these festivals are held every year, Liberation Day is in fact only classified as a public holiday every 5 years (which is the case in 2020). That does not mean that all employees get a day off, that is different for each employer. The influence on public life is limited, but bigger in the years when it is a public holiday. Take into account special timetables with public transport and adjusted opening times of shops.
Maybe you are also interested in this article about the Second World War in the Netherlands: Traces of WWII in the Netherlands.
Ascension Day – 21 May 2020
Ascension Day (Hemelvaart) in the Netherlands is about Jesus when he ascended to heaven for the final time following his crucifixion and resurrection. It is the 40th day of Easter and is always on a Thursday.
It is a public holiday and a day off for the general population. Schools and most businesses are closed. Observant Christians will attend a special church service on this day. But most people see this day as a bonus day off, as an opportunity to go on a long weekend vacation.
Pentecost/Whitsunday – 23 & 24 May 2020
We owe also this public holiday to Jesus. Pentecost is always on the Sunday and Monday 10 days after Ascension Day and this is in fact the celebration of the beginning of the Christian church.
Dutch people often use this weekend to go shopping or to an amusement park or the beach, or to church. There are a number of local events this weekend, but it is generally celebrated less extensively than Easter.
Sinterklaas – 5 December
After a long summer and fall without holidays, in December it is finally time for Sinterklaas, a very traditional holiday in the Netherlands with a long history.
I can tell lots about Sinterklaas, and I will write a separate article about this in the future. In a nutshell, Sinterklaas is a celebration for children. According to the story Saint Nicholas arrives at the end of November in the Netherlands with the steamer from Spain. Just like Santa Claus he brings gifts to children with the help of his servant ‘Black Pete’.
In the period before Sinterklaas you see a lot of decoration in the theme of Sinterklaas and candy also plays an important role. Speculaas, marzipan and pepernoten or kruidnoten are delicacies that are eaten during this time of the year.
Do you want to read more about food that goes along with Dutch holidays, such as kruidnoten and oliebollen? In this article you can read everything about traditional Dutch food: Traditional Dutch Food.
Christmas – 25 & 26 December
Christmas is celebrated in the Netherlands on December 25 and 26. This holiday has many traditions, many of which have come from the USA. In the period before Christmas you see many Christmas trees and decorations. Almost everyone has a decorated Christmas tree in the living room.
Giving presents under the Christmas tree is becoming more and more popular in the Netherlands. That is we see a peak in Christmas shopping in December. The shopping streets are pleasantly busy in December.
In the run-up to Christmas, events take place such as Christmas markets, ice skating rinks, the Dickens Festival in Deventer, the Amsterdam Light Festival and much more. On Christmas Eve people often go to a church service. On Christmas Day and Boxing Day it is all about eating and spending time with family and friends.
New Years Eve – 31 December
New Year’s Eve in the Netherlands is a big party. In the evening most people go for a social gathering with friends or family and eat typical Dutch snacks ‘oliebollen’ and ‘appelflappen’. Until the fireworks start at noon.
In the Netherlands, everyone is allowed to buy and light their own fireworks and that gives a nice spectacle. An even better spectacle is a professional fireworks show, for example in Rotterdam.
If you are in the Netherlands on January 1st, you can participate in a special tradition: The New Year’s Dive. In more than 200 places, a refreshing dip is taken in the sea or in a lake in the morning of New Year’s Day. The largest dive, with the most participants, can be found in Scheveningen.
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