How the Dutch celebrate their holidays and traditions in 2023
There are many different holidays around the world. What holidays are celebrated in the Netherlands? What do Dutch people celebrate on those days? And, what are typically Dutch traditions?
On which holidays do I have a day off?
In the Netherlands, there are official holidays and unofficial holidays. Although you can assume that most people are off on official holidays, this is not always the case. Dutch employers are not legally obliged to give you time off on a public holiday. Some companies and services must continue, even during holidays. Seems pretty logical, right?
Whether you have a day off or not is described in your collective bargaining agreement (CAO) or your employment contract. And of course, you can always ask your employer.
All Dutch holidays
Many holidays celebrated in the Netherlands are originally Christian. Most of them are not celebrated that extensively, as more and more people are becoming non-religious. Although they are not really celebrated, they remain holidays on which many people have a day off. Pretty confusing. We've listed them all for the year 2023 -official and unofficial holidays (including the Dutch translation, handy!).
New Year's Day
January 1, 2023
New Year's Day (Nieuwjaarsdag) is an official holiday in the Netherlands, which means that it's an official day off.
After most people have spent the evening socializing with friends or family, the fireworks burst out at midnight. There are specific rules (in Dutch) regarding setting off fireworks. Many people use this official holiday to visit their families.
During New Year's Eve, but also during New Year's Day, many oliebollen are eaten. It's a deep-fried doughnut ball and the perfect hangover snack! ;-)
New Year's Day includes a special tradition in the Netherlands: the nieuwjaarsduik. In more than 200 places, a dive is taken into the sea or other water on the morning of New Year's Day. The most popular nieuwjaarsduik takes place in Scheveningen and is organized by Unox, where every year about 10,000 daredevils dive into the ice-cold sea. The reward: a bowl of warm pea soup.
January 6, 2023
Driekoningen is no official holiday in the Netherlands, which means that it's no official day off.
After Christmas and New Year’s Eve, the next holiday is celebrated on 6 January: Ephiphany (Driekoningen). At least, it is not really celebrated extensively in the Netherlands. For many people, Epiphany is the start of clearing out the Christmas tree and Christmas stuff.
Epiphany is a Christian holiday, but it is also celebrated by Protestants. The visit of three wise men to baby Jesus in Bethlehem is celebrated. A start in the sky brought them to baby Jesus. Especially in the south of the Netherlands, children go door-to-door dressed as the three wise men and sing songs. As a thank you, they receive candy. Comparable to Halloween and Sint-Maarten!
February 14, 2023
Valentine's Day (Valentijnsdag) is no official holiday in the Netherlands, which means that it's no official day off.
Love it or hate it, Valentine's Day is also celebrated in the Netherlands. It’s mostly a commercial holiday, but it’s never a bad thing to surprise your loved one, right? ;-)
February 18 to February 21, 2023
Carnaval is no official holiday in the Netherlands, which means that these days are no official days off.
Carnaval in the Netherlands is a folk festival celebrated mainly below the rivers (especially in Brabant and Limburg). Originally it is a Catholic feast, celebrated on the three days before Ash Wednesday. It is celebrated before the fasting period in preparation for Easter. Nowadays, almost no one fasts in preparation for Easter anymore and Carnaval is mostly about partying. In many places, the party starts already on Friday.
The official Carnaval season starts on 11 November - the eleventh of the eleventh. In many villages and cities, the prince or princess for the coming Carnaval season is presented on this day. This prince or princess rules during Carnaval unofficially over his or her city or village. Don’t be surprised when you see people being dressed up on 11 November.
Carnaval is celebrated in different ways. For example, Carnaval in Limburg is different from Carnaval in Brabant. Many cities and villages in these provinces have their own carnaval clubs and are given different names. Maastricht becomes Mestreech, Eindhoven becomes Lampegat, Den Bosch becomes Oeteldonk, Tilburg becomes Kruikenstad, Arnhem becomes Ernem, Waalre becomes Keiengat, Helmond becomes Keiebijtersstad and Kattegat. The parade is the highlight of the Carnaval celebration.
During Carnaval, it is normal to dress up as a character. What you see during Halloween in other countries, the Dutch do during Carnaval, but less scary. People will often dress up as other characters, or as an animal. Google it and it will make sense. A little.
During Carnaval, people dress up as superheroes, animals, or other characters. You can't celebrate Carnaval without dressing up!
There are no Dutch holidays celebrated in March.
April 6, 2023
Holy Thursday (Witte Donderdag) is no official holiday in the Netherlands, which means that it's no official day off.
The Thursday before Easter is Holy Thursday (Witte Donderdag). Holy Thursday commemorates Jesus eating the Last Supper with his disciples. In several countries (such as Denmark, Norway, Iceland, and Spain), Holy Thursday is an official holiday. In the Netherlands, it is not really celebrated. Traditionally, on Holy Thursday, The Passion is broadcasted on Dutch television. The Passion is a musical event, about the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Dutch celebrities play the various roles of Jesus, Peter, and Judas. In 2023, The Passion will be recorded in Harlingen.
April 7, 2023
Good Friday (Goede Vrijdag) is an official holiday in the Netherlands, however, it's not an official day off for everyone.
After Holy Thursday (Witte Donderdag) comes Good Friday (Goede Vrijdag). On this day, Christians memorialize the crucifixion and death of Jesus. Because it's a sad story, church bells often do not ring during church services on this day. Supermarkets and shops will close at 19:00 on this day.
April 9 and April 10, 2023
Easter Sunday (Eerste Paasdag) and Easter Monday (Tweede Paasdag) are official holidays in the Netherlands, which means that these are official days off.
Easter is an important Christian holiday. In the Netherlands, it is mainly about enjoying good food. Dutch people meet with family and enjoy extensive Easter breakfasts, brunches, and dinners. Children search for Easter eggs hidden by the Easter Bunny, and in some villages are Easter bonfires organized. Searching for Easter eggs has nothing to do with Easter. The egg and the Easter bunny are symbols of new life and fertility. In the past, they were painted and given as gifts to poor people. Eggs are still being colored and painted. Now, it's just a fun tradition!
In the Netherlands, Sunday is Easter Sunday (Eerste Paasdag) and Monday is Easter Monday (Tweede Paasdag). Originally, Easter Sunday was the day that you went to church and Easter Monday was a day of entertainment and festivities. Now, most people go to furniture shops on Easter Monday (just like they do on Tweede Kerstdag).
April 27, 2023
King's Day (Koningsdag) is an official holiday in the Netherlands, which means that it's an official day off.
Every year, King's Day (Koningsdag) is celebrated on 27 April. King's Day marks the Dutch monarch's birthday and is probably the biggest birthday party you will ever experience. Throughout the country, King’s Day is celebrated with various festivities, including flea markets, festivals, and wearing orange clothing. Streets are adorned with orange and red-white-blue-colored decorations, and Dutch flags are hung out with a festive orange pennant. Traditionally, the monarch makes a ceremonial visit to one or more municipalities in the country on this day. If 27 April is on a Sunday, King’s Day will be celebrated on Saturday before.
Did you know that King's Day used to be called 'Queen's Day'? Queen Beatrix's birthday used to be celebrated on 30 April, on the birthday of Queen Juliana (Queen Beatrix's mother and grandmother of our current King Willem-Alexander). Many tourists still come to Amsterdam in orange outfits on 30 April for Queen’s Day, while King’s Day is nowadays celebrated three days earlier. Whoops!
April 21, 2023
Suikerfeest is no official holiday in the Netherlands, which means that it's no official day off.
Eid al-Fitr (Suikerfeest) is an Islamic holiday that celebrates the end of Ramadan. Although it is not an official day off, most schools allow for a day's leave to be taken for the celebration of this day. On this day, the mosque and family will be visited. All kinds of festive dishes and sweet treats are eaten. Many women decorate their hands with henna. Suikerfeest is not on a fixed date every year, meaning Turks do not always celebrate Suikerfeest on the same day as Moroccans.
May 4, 2023
Remembrance Day (Dodenherdenking) is no official holiday in the Netherlands, which means that it's no official day off.
During Remembrance Day on May 4th, the victims of World War II and all subsequent war situations and peace missions are remembered. People are remembered in local places, but also at the Dam Square in Amsterdam, where the National Remembrance takes place. At 20:00, two minutes of silence will be held.
On this day, the Dutch flag is hung at half-mast in remembrance. Supermarkets and shops will close at 19:00 on this day.
May 5, 2023
Liberation Day (Bevrijdingsdag) is an official holiday in the Netherlands, however, it's not an official day off for everyone.
On May 5, each year the liberation from the German occupation during World War II is celebrated. On this day - in 1945 - talks about capitulation took place. Freedom, democracy, and human rights are also celebrated on this day. Throughout the country, there are liberation festivals. Most supermarkets and shops stick to their regular opening hours.
On May 5, you can raise the Dutch flag. It's a festive day!
May 14, 2023
Mother's Day (Moederdag) is no official holiday in the Netherlands, which means that it's no official day off.
Mother's Day is celebrated in the Netherlands in the same way as in other countries. However, the pampering day is celebrated on a different day than in France, England, and Sweden. In the Netherlands, Mother's Day is celebrated on the second Sunday in the month of May.
May 18, 2023
Ascension Day (Hemelvaartsdag) is an official holiday in the Netherlands, which means that it's an official day off.
Forty days after Easter, Ascension Day is celebrated in the Netherlands. Although, it is not really celebrated. In Christianity, this day remembers Jesus' ascension to God, his father in heaven. The Assumption of Maria is not celebrated in the Netherlands. Ascension Day is always on a Thursday. Supermarkets and shops will close at 19:00 on this day.
Especially in the east of the Netherlands, it is tradition to go 'dauwtrappen' on Ascension Day. The idea is to get up really early and go for a walk or a bike ride to enjoy the morning dew. Dew usually occurs around sunrise. At the end of May the sunrise is already around 5:30 am, so if you want to go 'dauwtrappen', you have to set your alarm early!
May 28 and May 29, 2023
Eerste Pinksterdag and Tweede Pinksterdag are official holidays in the Netherlands, which means that these days are official days off.
Ten days after Ascension Day, it is Pentecost (Pinksteren). On this day, the Holy Spirit descended upon us. It's considered the beginning of the Christian church. There are not many traditions these days. In some places, Pentecost fires are lit, but otherwise, there are no traditions worth mentioning.
June 18, 2023
Father's Day (Vaderdag) is no official holiday in the Netherlands, which means that it's no official day off.
Like Mother's Day, Father's Day is also celebrated in the Netherlands. Father's Day is also celebrated in the same way as in other countries. As in most countries, Father's Day is celebrated every year on the third Sunday of June.
Feast of Sacrifice
June 28 - July 2, 2023
Feast of Sacrifice (Offerfeest) is no official holiday in the Netherlands, which means that it's no official day off.
The Feast of Sacrifice is an important holiday for Muslims. Muslims annually honor the act of Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham), who wanted to sacrifice his son for Allah. Instead of his son, he slaughtered an animal. Since then, there is a tradition during the Feast of Sacrifice to sacrifice a goat or lamb according to a ritual. Every year, the holiday is celebrated on different days, on the tenth day of the pilgrimage month. In 2023, the Feast of Sacrifice starts on June 28.
July 1, 2023
Ketikoti is no official holiday in the Netherlands, which means that it's no official day off.
In the Netherlands, Keti Koti is not an extensively celebrated holiday but is being celebrated more and more often. What is celebrated? That on June 1, 1863, the Kingdom of the Netherlands abolished slavery in both Suriname and the Netherlands Antilles. Although it is an official holiday in Suriname, slavery is still little discussed in the Netherlands. Fortunately, the attention of Keti Koti is increasing. Perhaps one day it will become an official holiday in the Netherlands.
August 28, 2023
Gronings Ontzet is no official holiday in the Netherlands, which means that it's no official day off.
Gronings Verzet, also known as Bommen Berend, celebrates the fact that the province of Groningen had withstood the occupation of the German bishop of Munster in the disaster year 1672. On this day all kinds of activities are organized in Groningen, such as a fair, a horse inspection, a Concours Hippique, fireworks, and music events. Supermarkets and shops will close earlier on this day.
September 19, 2023
Prinsjesdag is no official holiday in the Netherlands, which means that it's no official day off.
Every third Tuesday of September it is Prince's Day (Prinsjesdag). In the Grote Kerk in The Hague, the King delivers the Speech from the Throne (de Troonrede). It resembles the start of a new working year of the parliamentary. It contains the government's most important plans for the coming year. After the speech, the Minister of Finance goes to the House of Representatives with a briefcase. This briefcase contains the National Budget, which is stated how much money the government will make available for their plans in the coming year and where the money will come from.
World Animal Day
October 4, 2023
World Animal Day (Dierendag) is no official holiday in the Netherlands, which means that it's no official day off.
Annually, on 4 October, it is World Animal Day (Dierendag). All animals, mainly pets, get some extra attention on this day.
October 31, 2023
Halloween is no official holiday in the Netherlands, which means that it's no official day off.
Halloween is becoming increasingly popular in the Netherlands. Still, it is certainly not as big as in the USA and the United Kingdom. More and more people decorate their homes and carve out pumpkins nowadays. Also, it becomes more common for children to do some trick and treating.
During Halloween, many Halloween events are organized. For example, Walibi Holland organizes Spooky Days and Fright Nights every year. Warning: only for daredevils! There are also a lot of dance parties happening nowadays.
November 11, 2023
Sint-Maarten is no official holiday in the Netherlands, which means that it's no official day off.
Sint-Maarten is celebrated around the same time as Halloween and is quite similar. Officially, it is a mendicant feast. It is not celebrated everywhere in the Netherlands. In some places, it is celebrated with bonfires, and in other places with a lantern procession. It is a tradition that children make these lanterns themselves. With these lanterns, children walk door-to-door while singing songs. In exchange, they receive some candy. So, it looks very much like Halloween!
December 5, 2023
Sinterklaas is no official holiday in the Netherlands, which means that it's no official day off.
Sinterklaas is a typical Dutch holiday. Sinterklaas, also called St. Nicholas or Good Saint, is a figure based on a Greek holy bishop. He is a rather stately man with a long white beard and hair, a red miter, and a red cloak. He rides a white horse and has a lot of helpers: Pieten.
The Sinterklaas period starts already on Saturday 20 November, when Sinterklaas arrives from Spain with his boat (De Pakjesboot). Every year, the national entry (intocht van Sinterklaas) takes place at a different place in the Netherlands. There are also many regional entries organized. It is a tradition that from that day on, children occasionally leave one shoe in front of the fireplace at night. In that shoe, they put a drawing for Sinterklaas, a wish list with gifts they would like to have, or something nice for the horse of Sinterklaas. Overnight, it is then filled with pepernoten and/or a small present.
Sinterklaas is a celebration for children. At elementary schools, they pay a lot of attention to Sinterklaas. They sing songs and Sinterklaas often visits the school. Must know: Sinterklaas has a big book with (supposedly) all children’s names, noting how they behaved last year and what their gift wishes are.
On December 5, it is Sinterklaasavond, also known as Pakjesavond. In the evening, Sinterklaas his birthday is celebrated. Children receive presents, which are often given in jute sacks. Young adults and adults often use this night to organize a fun surprise evening. Based on a lottery draw, everyone makes craftwork for each other, which includes a present and a poem.
On Pakjesavond, children are a little spoiled. They get presents and lots of pepernoten. Pepernoten are little cookies made from speculaas.
If you stroll through the supermarkets in the fall, you can’t miss the Sinterklaas candy. There is a lot of snacking during the Sinterklaas period. Typical candies you should try are pepernoten (or kruidnoten) (with chocolate!), taaitaai, banketstaaf, and marzipan. On 5 December, many supermarkets and shops close earlier.
December 24, 2023
Christmas Eve (Kerstavond) is no official holiday in the Netherlands, which means that it's no official day off. However, most employers give their employees a few hours off early to celebrate Christmas Eve properly. It is best to check this with your employer.
December is a real celebration month for the Dutch. Even though many households have traditionally and fanatically celebrated Sinterklaas, Christmas is also being celebrated more and more extensively. Did you know that Santa Claus is actually derived from the Dutch Sinterklaas? Dutch immigrants brought the celebration of Sinterklaas with them to the United States of America.
Although the stores are already filled with Christmas items in October, the traditional Christmas tree is often put up in the living rooms only a few weeks before Christmas: at least after Sinterklaas. The Dutch have many similar traditions as other countries have, such as sending Christmas cards to loved ones, opening Advent calendars daily, wearing ugly Christmas sweaters, and decorating their homes with Christmas lights. Most companies send their employees a Christmas gift, or Christmas 'box' (kerstpakket), before Christmas.
On the evening of December 24, it is Christmas Eve. For many, it is tradition to attend church services on Christmas Eve. Here, the birth of baby Jezus is told. Supermarkets and shops will close at 19:00 on this day.
December 25 and 26, 2023
Christmas Day (Eerste Kerstdag) and Boxing Day (Tweede Kerstdag) are official holidays in the Netherlands, which means that these days are official days off.
December 25 is Christmas Day (Eerste Kerstdag). Usually, people spend this day with family and loved ones. A typical Dutch tradition is to 'gourmet'. Together, mostly in groups, you prepare small dishes on a baking plate. On this day, most shops are closed. Nowadays, some supermarkets are open at specific times.
Although the USA does not celebrate another Christmas day, the Netherlands has another day off on Boxing Day (Tweede Kerstdag). This day is also traditionally spent with family. Although on Christmas Day (Eerste Kerstdag) most stores are closed, they are open on Boxing Day (Tweede Kerstdag). Especially furniture shops are popular on this day.
It doesn't often snow during Christmas in the Netherlands, but when it does it is wonderfully magical, like in Maastricht above.
New Year's Eve
December 31, 2023
New Year's Eve (Oudejaarsdag) is no official holiday in the Netherlands, which means that it's no official day off.
The last day of the year is officially a normal working day. In the Netherlands, it is celebrated by eating lots of 'oliebollen'. You can get these at 'oliebollenkramen': market stands which you can find everywhere on December 31. If you want to try them (you should!), you can of course do so throughout the whole of December. Most villages and definitely most cities have an oliebollenkraam full of delicious treats ready for you.
The evening is celebrated with friends and/or family. At 00:00, of course, there will be a toast with some champagne. And there are fireworks. In the Netherlands, it is allowed to set off fireworks yourself. There are also professionally organized shows that you can visit or watch on television. Since 2020, there are stricter rules regarding buying and lighting fireworks. In the north and east of the Netherlands shooting carbide - using old milk cans - is popular. Officially, it is permitted to set off fireworks on 31 December from 18:00 until 2:00 on January 1.
Many supermarkets and shops will not close earlier on New Year's Eve. Be aware that there is little or no public transport after 20:00.