Carnival – held in February during the period preceding Lent. Although a national tradition, it is celebrated much more extensively in the south of the country, where many businesses close for three days of parades and celebration.
Koninginnedag (Queen’s Day) – April 30 – this is a major festival for the Dutch, and in Amsterdam, you can feel the House of Orange seeping into your veins both literally and metaphorically: Everyone is covered in orange from head to toe, and the streets and canals are flooded with people to the point that it might actually take you over an hour to walk from Central Station to Leidesplein (which might normally take only 15 minutes, at a relaxed pace). One of the features of this day is that many people will set up stalls in the street to sell any unneeded household items. This is because Queen’s Day is the single day of the year when the country becomes an open market for everyone to try their luck in, if they please. Although this day is called Queens’ Day, it is worth noting that it is actually a celebration that occurs on the birthday of the Queen’s Mother.
Sint Maarten – November 11 – This a trick or treat occasion, when children typically will walk with lanterns- perhaps behind a man on horseback who is dressed as the Saint. Families with children will wander from door to door and sing traditional songs in exchange for treats. This is more likely to occur in suburban areas, with a large number of Dutch families, while it is less prevalent cities, like Amsterdam, and other areas that are largely dominated by populations of tourists and the ever expanding population of international residents.
The arrival of Sinterklaas – mid-November – The arrival of Sinterklaas is marked by a large festival in many Dutch cities, including Amsterdam. You can witness his arrival in Amsterdam, as his ship appears, making its way up the River Amstel and into the centre of the city. As you will notice, he comes accompanied by his many helpers who are – so it’s told – from the mountains of southern Spain. The little men who give candies and cookies to the children who welcome Sinterklaas to town are known as Zwarte Pieten. Originally, there was one Zwarte Piete, who was Sinterklaas’s helper, and he is still featured in many of the songs that children sing, even though it is common to see many Zwarte Pieten accompanying Sinterklaas on his excursions. The Zwarte Pieten (translated as Black Piets) comprise a peculiarly Dutch tradition, and this has been found notoriously bizarre to those from outside the Netherlands; moreover, it has become increasingly questionable from within.
Sinterklaas – December 5 and 6 –-This is the traditional time for gift giving amongst families. While it is not recognised as a public holiday in the Netherlands, it is quite apparent that Sinterklaas is when families celebrate together, in a way that is comparable to how most other cultures celebrate Christmas. From the time between Sinterklaas’s arrival and the day of Sinterklaas, you can see the festive spirit taking over the country, as many public establishments will give out holiday treats like mandarins, kruidnoten and peppernoten, and speculaas treats, which are all specifically associated with this holiday and this time of year. After December 6, Sinterklaas and his helpers traditionally return to their home in the mountains of southern Spain. Although the Dutch also celebrate Christmas on December 25, they do not generally exchange many presents on that day, and you will find that some stores and restaurants in Amsterdam will still be open on Christmas Day, even though it is officially a public holiday.
New Year’s Eve (Oudejaarsavond) – December 31 – here the Dutch celebrate the Old Year (rather than “New Year’s Eve”) that has just ended, before they welcome in the New Year. In Amsterdam, it is common to find people densely packed in large public areas outside, with friends and family, eagerly awaiting the firework shows that go on and off around the city centre and beyond. The festivities continue throughout the evening and into the wee hours of the morning, as the Old Year brings in the Year and the beginning of the next celebration. Many people also choose to go to extravagant parties that are hosted by all of the major and smaller clubs around the city.