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HistoryThe Netherlands

A short history of King’s Day

Royal Central takes a look at the tradition of celebrating the monarch’s birthday that began as Princess’s Day.

In the 19th century, King William III of the Netherlands faced quite a bit of unpopularity but his four-year-old daughter Wilhelmina, his future successor, was very popular. It was proposed that the Princess’ birthday be observed as a patriotic celebration and so the first Princess’ Day was held on 31 August 1885, Wilhelmina’s fifth birthday. Princess Wilhelmina was paraded through the city of Utrecht, and soon other cities followed. When Princess Wilhelmina’s inherited the throne in 1890 at the age of 10, the day was renamed Queen’s Day.

The festivities continued to grow but Queen Wilhelmina rarely attended after she became an adult. During the Second World War, celebrations of Queen’s Day were banned by the Germans. When Queen Wilhelmina abdicated in favour of her daughter Juliana, the Queen’s Day celebrations were moved to Juliana’s birthday on 30 April. The first celebration in April included a circus at the Amsterdam Olympic Stadium but the family did not attend – preferring to stay at Soestdijk Palace where they received a floral tribute. When this tribute came to be televised in the 1950s, Queen’s Day increasingly became a national holiday.

Queen Juliana abdicated in Princess Beatrix’s favour in 1980 and the new Queen Beatrix decided to keep the holiday on 30 April as a tribute to her mother. Her own birthday was in January when it would be too cold to celebrate. It was under Beatrix that Queen’s day truly flourished. She began visiting one or two towns each year with other members of the royal family. When she abdicated in favour of her eldest son, Prince Willem-Alexander, the celebrations were moved to his birthday – 27 April – and renamed King’s Day. He has so far visited De Rijp and Amstelveen (2014), Dordrecht (2015), Zwolle (2016), Tilburg (2017), Groningen (2018), Amersfoort (2019), at home (2020) and Eindhoven (2021).

King’s Day now has large-scale celebrations all over the country. Several cities hold special concerts and festivals with some beginning the night before King’s Day.