By Shannon Meyer
Today, the blaring of horns is not a traffic jam. Driver's are celebrating the Dutch national holiday, Queen's Day.
“We celebrate the birthday of the Queen,” explains an Alblasserdam resident. “Actually, it's the birthday of her mother. She kept the 30th of April as Queen's Day as a remembrance of her mother.
Big rigs parade around the city of Ridderkerk, their horns echoing through the neighborhoods.
It has been celebrated in this way during Queen Beatrix's 33 year reign. However, next year will be different. Today Beatrix will step down and her son Willem-Alexander is to become king, the first Dutch king in 123 years. Maxima, of Argentina, is his queen.
Many Dutch remember Queen Beatrix's reign fondly. “They have a lot to live up to. The legacy they are inheriting is significant.”
Queen Beatrix on the Dutch Euro coin.
The Netherlands is a constitutional monarchy, and Dutch royalty has no official political power. However, unofficially, they have influence through their relationships with other monarchies and world leaders. Hearkening back to the country's roots in trade and commerce, the resident remarks, “The other thing, why it's important to have a monarchy, is we are a very small country. Our biggest asset is trade. You do business with friends.”
Many houses display the Dutch flag today.
The streets are lined with fluttering red, white and blue Dutch flags topped with orange “wimpels,” the color of the royal House of Orange. Orange is to be seen everywhere as shops string up orange balloons and people don orange shirts, feather boas, fedoras, and even hair. Communities big and small are alive with activity.
Orange clothes are worn in honor of the House of Orange.
While the Dutch are proud of their culture, such showing of national symbols is uncommon. “Here in the Netherlands, the flag with banner complete is typically something for Queen's Day...I would say it is a very modest [national] pride. We don't go 'oooh, look at us.' We don't advertise.”
One man's trash is another man's treasure.
A crowd gathers as the ceremony begins with the Dutch national anthem, Wilhelmus. Prince Willem-Alexander and Princess Maxima move across the screen. In attendance of the ceremony are many other members of royalty, including Britain's Prince Charles and Camilla, as well as prominent people such as Kofi Annan. Even the elusive Princess Masako of Japan is attending, her first trip abroad in seven years. The Alblasserdam resident re-iterates his earlier remark: “It is very important to keep relationships in good order.”
Ridderkerk city center.
Many Dutch are gathered today with friends and family to watch the proceedings and share “tompouce,” an orange-frosted puff pastry. Elsewhere are parades, and everywhere bustles with activity and people out to celebrate. At one point, a distant band enthusiastically belts out “Sweet Home Alabama.” The day will conclude with fireworks, bidding a final farewell to the reign of Queen Beatrix, and the Netherlands will look forward to next year's King's Day.