Social events & important dates
Here is a summary of some of the most important happenings throughout the year in Maastricht and the surrounding area.
1 January - New Year's Day
Many people spend the rest of January 1 quietly, often in the company of family or close friends. Some go hiking or cycling in the countryside and others organize a New Year's reception or meal. In a number of towns and villages, New Year's Dives are organized. Participants dive into the North Sea, lakes or canals and swim a small distance. These events are televised and the participants are seen as heroic given that it is cold in the Netherlands on January 1. In some areas, communal events are organized to clear up the litter that results from the fireworks set off at midnight.
Carnaval: the Dutch either love it or hate it. Those who live in the southern provinces (especially
Brabant and Limburg) love it and celebrate it with passion. Virtually all businesses close in a three-day celebration of life, spring, beer and friendship, though in the province of Limburg there is an added element of poking fun at the government and politics. People get dressed up and go from café to café, singing songs, dancing and drinking. There is no need to be afraid of this being a local festivity at which strangers are not accepted: as long as you dress up (preferably also paint your face) you are more than welcome. Go to a shop called In ’t Panhuis (address: Markt 74 in Maastricht) for your own dazzling carnaval outfit. This academic year Carnaval will take place from 14 – 16 February 2010. Carnaval is the biggest event of the year in Maastricht and as an exchange student you cannot miss this!
The Friday before Easter. On Good Friday (in Dutch: goede vrijdag), Christians in the Netherlands remember the crucifixion of Jesus on the hill known as Calvary or Golgotha near Jerusalem. It is a day of prayer for observant Christians and a holiday for some people but others have to work. Banks and post offices are closed. Most stores and other businesses are open but may close earlier than usual. Public transport services operate a normal or slightly reduced service. There are some restrictions on selling alcohol on Good Friday. There may be some congestion on routes to popular destinations for short breaks.
Easter - Pasen
Dutch people celebrate Easter over two days (Sunday and the subsequent Monday). The holiday is spent with family and friends and people take some time to prepare for it. They paint Easter eggs and decorate the house with hazel branches and yellow spring flowers. Children search for Easter eggs which are supposedly hidden by the Easter bunny (in Dutch: Paashaas). Most shops are closed on Monday.
30 April - The Queen’s Birthday
All through history, the Dutch Royal family has been very popular and their birthdays have been celebrated with enthusiasm. Queen Beatrix celebrates her birthday on 30 April. You can either celebrate it by visiting one of the towns or cities the Queen visits on this day (and witness some true old-fashioned entertainment) or you can visit some of the bigger cities. Amsterdam, and to a lesser extent Utrecht, is the place to be during this day: bands playing everywhere, people dancing in the streets and having lots of fun! The trains to Amsterdam tend to be packed (people actually travel from Eindhoven to Maastricht first to obtain a seat) so make sure you go early. The night before, called koninginnenacht (night of the Queen), is also wild and celebrated mainly in The Hague with large open air concerts at various locations. Since the Dutch national colour is orange everyone wears something orange on the Queens Birthday, so if you really want to mingle with the Dutch you know what to do.
4 May - Dutch Memorial Day
Though this is not exactly to be considered a festivity, it is a day of national significance. 4 May is the day on which the Dutch remember those who died during the Second World War; soldiers, people in the Resistance and those who died in concentration camps in Europe as well as in Indonesia. The radios are silent between 20:00 and 20:01 hrs, and people sit in silence to remember those who did not make it through the war.
5 May - Liberation Day
Following the melancholy day of 4 May is 5 May, the day on which the Dutch celebrate their total liberation from the occupying forces in 1945 (some parts of the Netherlands were already liberated in November 1944). On this day, flags are flown full-mast and the streets take on a festive look. Throughout the country, it is celebrated everywhere and there are a lot of open-air concerts.
Some devote Christians make a special effort to attend a church service on Ascension Day. For others it is just a day off work to enjoy an early morning walk or cycle ride in the spring weather or carry out household maintenance.
Pentecost and Whit Monday
The Dutch celebrate two days of Pentecost (on Sunday and the subsequent Monday). Both Pentecost and Whit Monday are not widely celebrated, but are national holidays and enjoyed as long weekends.
5 December - Sinterklaas
Through the centuries Sinterklaas has been considered the patron saint of children. According to legend, he saved his town from starvation and he is said to have revived three dead children. He supposedly arrives in the Netherlands somewhere around the middle of November on his steamboat from Spain. This boat is loaded with gifts and populated by Zwarte Pieten (Black Petes), his helpers. One explanation why Sinterklaas has zwarte (black) pieten to help him is because the Moors dominated Spain for several hundreds of years. Another more popular explanation for zwarte piet being black is that he has come down the chimneys so often that he can not wash the dirt off. Sinterklaas is not only a holiday for children: also grown-ups like to participate in the fun. This is often done by means of a gift (serious, silly or, often, homemade - the latter type is called a surprise) with an accompanying funny poem.
25 December - Christmas
The Dutch celebrate two days of Christmas: the first day of Christmas (in Dutch: Eerste Kerstdag) and the second day of Christmas (in Dutch: Tweede Kerstdag).
Though this is not so much an official festivity, much less an annually recurring one, it is well worth mentioning. Every year, the Dutch hope for a severe winter as this will freeze over the lakes and canals in the province of Friesland, allowing the Elfstedentocht to take place. This Elfstedentocht is a race on ice-skates, that passes through 11 cities in Friesland (hence elf steden or eleven cities) and is almost 200 kilometers long. The life of the winners of this event will never be the same again – they become national heroes and are recognized wherever they go. A surprising fact is that the winners are seldom trained Olympic ice skaters, but modest farmers who have been training as a hobby.
Preuvenemint is a four-day culinary event on the Vrijthof in Maastricht. It is held annually during the last weekend of August (26-29 August 2010). The Vrijthof will then be filled with some forty stands in a lovely setting, where the local elite meet to see and be seen. People come from far to experience the delicious food and wine and enjoy the excellent ambiance. For further information visit: www.preuvenemint.nl
Oktoberfest (Munich, Germany)
Although admittedly a German tradition, Maastricht students cross the border en masse to take part in this wild festival of drinking, singing, and generally being happy together. Feel free to join in with a gang of German students to enjoy this truly European tradition. The Oktoberfest in Munich receives six million visitors annually, making it the world’s largest fair. For more information visit www.oktoberfest.de