On the 27th of April, the Netherlands turned orange again. Every year on this day, we celebrate King Willem-Alexander’s birthday, usually by throwing big parties and going out on the streets. However, since we are still in the middle of a pandemic, most parties had to be cancelled for the second year in a row. The royal family did not do their usual city tour, there were no big events thrown, and even a promising field lab festival had to be canceled last minute. It might all sound like there was nothing to see or hear last Tuesday. On the contrary, cities seemed to be loaded with people, so much so that the police had to close several parks. Are we collectively done with COVID-19 and obeying the rules, or is it just some Kingsday madness?
For people who might not be familiar with this date, April 27th is the birthday of King Willem-Alexander. Although this might sound like ‘just another date’, it is quite a big deal for us, Dutch people. Each year, the royal family – King Willem-Alexander, Queen Maxima, and their children, Crown princess Amalia and princesses Alexia and Ariane – visit a different Dutch city where a whole program is set up with acts and things to see. Aside from that this day is a day off for many, and events like (flea) markets and music festivals are organized. For instance, students and party enthusiasts might see it as just an opportunity for some day drinking.
A different kind of Kingsday
Last year and this year, however, things obviously have changed due to the pandemic. In 2020 Kingsday even got a new name and became Woningdag (‘House-day’, as in being indoors). This seemed to work as people stayed home and this measure was necessary because the Intensive Care numbers were rising and we needed to do something about the (at that time) recently discovered virus. Thus, live streams of musical events were organized, the royal family had an online program, and there were even online flea markets for children.
That was Kingsday 2020. Yet, a year went by, people are starting to be vaccinated, tests are continuously being performed, and self-tests are now available on the market. You would expect this year to have a few more possibilities for celebrating the event. Sadly, there are still too many hospitalizations to simply let rules go. Therefore the government decided that the avondklok (Curfew) would last until the 28th, people were still only allowed to go outside in small numbers and gatherings were not allowed.
Situations got out of hand
As quietly as the 27th went by a year ago, as hard it seemed to be to obey the rules this time. Whether it was the weather which was surprisingly nice for a day in the Netherlands in April, or people were just tired of being in lockdown, things seemed to escalate rather quickly. As the day went by, parks in several cities were closed down due to large crowds of visitors and the police had to intervene as in some cases, situations got out of hand. For instance, in Amsterdam there were 212 arrests. It seems that people really craved a party and they simply did not care anymore.
Right now we seem to be at a crossroad
It is not that organizations and festival crews did not try. The royal family had a visit at a private location which was broadcasted live. And there were musical events, such as an online concert of popular Dutch artists called ‘The Streamers’ which was broadcasted for free. Still, it is hard to keep people motivated to limit their contacts, and one could argue that this is not entirely incomprehensible. As said earlier, we have been in this situation for quite a long time and right now we seem to be at a crossroad. On the one hand, we are getting tested, vaccinated and are trying to lower the covid-cases.
On the other hand, we are slowly trying to get back to ‘normal’ with the opening of terraces and the different test-events that are organized. During these test-events, or field lab events, people are allowed in large groups again to visit for instance concerts or sports games. It seems hard to make the right decisions here, since the 538 field lab music event was cancelled at the last moment. Mostly, healthcare workers in the area where the festival was supposed to take place were strongly against it, which is understandable when workloads continue to be high and COVID-related cases are still being detected on a daily basis. But can we really blame anyone for looking forward to a day of carelessly dancing?
Despite the presence of online possibilities for entertainment, people still met up with each other out in the open and cities turned orange anyway. As we know, people are ‘group animals’, they are drawn to others like magnets. If you combine this with nice weather, a bit of music and some drinks, a party is bound to arise.
In the next few weeks it will become clear if this had any impact on the COVID-19 numbers. Let us hope that we can stay healthy and the future will be bright, even after the gatherings on Kingsday.
One negative impact of all this partying became visible straight away; the amount of trash the party-animals left behind. There had to be worked through the night to clean the cities. This sadly shows that – aside from possible influence on the pandemic – there are other negative impacts of such spontaneous celebrations.
A Kingsday not to forget, and not to repeat
That was that
What we can be sure of is that the royal family’s visit to a Dutch city was completely corona-proof and that they tried to make the best out of it. ‘A Kingsday not to forget, and not to repeat’, Willem-Alexander spoke at the private location in Eindhoven. And with those words he summarized the day well. We may be craving a party once again and that is fine, but let us not forget about the healthcare workers, or city cleaning crews, who have to handle the aftermath of every party. It may have seemed like a nice getaway from COVID-19, but now fun’s over and we must get back to reality – the pandemic is not over yet. Hopefully, we can soon enjoy carefree days of festivities again, without putting anyone in danger.
Cover: Remy Gieling
Edited by: Emma Chiaratti