The Great National Holiday Shift

The national holidays in the Netherlands tend to cluster somewhat together. And some of those holidays have little meaning for most of the population. But any proposal for change leads to emotional discussions. It seems like an unsolvable dilemma. Or is there a creative answer to the question? Yes, I think there is….

Christmas card of the author: a paintified photograph of the maritime outdoor museum at Leuvehaven in Rotterdam, covered with snow
…and a great new year…


In the Netherlands, we have the following national holidays, in order of appearance: New Year’s Day, Easter Sunday and Easter Monday, King’s Day, Ascension Day, Pentecost Sunday and Pentecost Monday and two days of Christmas. Additionally, Liberation Day is a day off for some people.

Queensday in downtown Rotterdam in 2004
Queen’s Day in Rotterdam, 2004

Cluster of holidays

Most of these holidays are within a short period in spring: fifty days, the time between Easter and Pentecost. Within that timeframe, we also celebrate King’s Day, Liberation Day, and Ascension Day. Of course, spring is not a bad time to have a few days off. Just imagine this cluster of holidays to be in February or November. However, after Pentecost, there is over half a year with no holidays at all. Can’t this distribution be more balanced?

Shards of a red and a gold Christmas bauble arranged on a mirror


Many of our holidays are related to Christianity. Once, almost the entire population belonged to that religious denomination, but nowadays, with all due respect, it’s only a substantial minority. Is it still logical for so many of our national holidays to be of Christian origin? Especially since they make up such a significant part of that springtime cluster? And what is the alternative?

Artificial christmas tree with two baubles and an angel
Merry Christmas!

Christmas and Easter

Apart from its religious significance, Christmas has managed to establish itself in the hearts and minds of the Dutch. Christmas tree, presents, snowflakes, sleighs, top 2000, whether or not spent with family and in-laws. To a lesser extent, the same applies to Easter. Easter bunny, Easter eggs, Easter breakfast. So let’s leave Christmas and Easter untouched. But few people can relate to Ascension Day and Pentecost. Can’t we exchange those for some other holidays? But which ones? It seems like a recipe for endless discussions.

Close up of a red Easter egg on a sandy beach
Happy Easter!

Breaking the Fast

For example, we could make Eid al-Fitr, literally the Holiday of Breaking the Fast, the end of the Ramadan fasting month, a national holiday. After all, about five percent of the Dutch population is Muslim, also a substantial minority. Furthermore, the case of Christmas shows that even non-religious people can embrace a religious holiday as long as food plays a significant role. Interestingly, Eid al-Fitr is linked to the lunar calendar, so it happens a few weeks earlier every year. So on average, slightly more than once a year.

The Rotterdam skyline during the blue hour with in the foreground the dome of the Mevlana mosque
Rotterdam seen from the Mevlana Mosque

Breaking the Chains

Keti Koti is also an interesting candidate. The celebration of Breaking the Chains, the abolition of slavery, is certainly worth commemorating and celebrating. Keti Koti is on July 1, also a nice moment, at the beginning of summer, shortly before the holiday season.

Glass candle holder with burning flame and rays of light in all directions
Let there be light…


But the difficulty with days like Eid al-Fitr and Keti Koti is that there are many more groups in the Netherlands, all with their own enjoyable holidays. For example, Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, could also become a national holiday. Or Labor Day. Chinese New Year. Thanksgiving. Valentine’s Day. Assumption of Mary. Leiden’s Relief. St. Martin’s Day. Summer Carnival. Architecture Day. Open Monuments Day. Black Friday. Halloween. Saint Pannekoek. I wouldn’t mind if they all became official days off, but I’m afraid employers wouldn’t be overly enthousiastic about the idea.

Filed with colorful wildflowers on a sunny day at the beginning of summer
Midsummer flowers


How about a kind of official holiday strippenkaart (stamping ticket), where everyone can choose their own national holidays? Well, something like that already exists, since employees have a number of days off in their contracts. And in our fragmented society, it’s just as good to have moments in the year that we all look forward to.

A beautiful evening sky on a midsummer night along the river Rotte, just north of Rotterdam, Holland
Midsummer evening along the Rotte


Isn’t there a day in the year that everyone can relate to, regardless of faith or background? A day that can objectively, even scientifically, be determined? A universally important day, meaningful in the lives of everyone living at 52 degrees north latitude, on the third rock from the sun? Yes, such a day exists: June 21, the longest day. It’s a good day for festivities because of the long light evenings. To celebrate that we still have months of warm weather ahead. I imagine a national barbecue, meat, fish or vegetarian, with fresh salads, grilled corn, and, of course, lots of ice cream. And those who hate summer can be relieved that the days start getting shorter from that point on.

Oak leaves in mainly red and orange hues on a sunny day in autumn
Beautiful autumn colors

Leaf Day

And there’s another day: September 21, the beginning of autumn. With a difficult word: the autumnal equinox. The moment when day and night are of equal length anywhere on Earth. The time when the trees slowly begin to change colors, and you know that weeks of beautiful autumn hues are coming. A kind of harvest festival at the end of summer. Moreover, the weather is often still great in late September, making it a perfect time for a national holiday. With typical autumn dishes like pumpkin soup, mushroom risotto, and apple pie, and for those who enjoy it, a bock beer. What should we call that day? Equinox, Autumn Festival, Leaf Day? We’ll figure it out.

Leaves of the sweet gum tree (liquidambar styraciflua) in various colors on a sunny day in autumn on a lawn
Merry Equinox!

Liberation Day

But wait… Ascension Day is always on a Thursday, and Whit Monday is always on a Monday. July 21 and September 21 can also be on weekends, so you’d miss out on a day off. The damage would be four days in seven years. Well, as a correction for that loss, I propose using those four days to make May 5, Liberation Day, an official day off again. Every year, for everyone. After all, the end of World War II is also worth commemorating and celebrating. To put it mildly.

Windmill De Valk in Leiden, Holland, wrapped in the Dutch flag for the occasion of Kings Day and Liberation Day
May 5 in Leiden


This shift would result in a much more balanced distribution throughout the year. Roughly every three months, there would be a holiday, with an additional small cluster in the spring. With respect for traditions (Christmas, Easter). And introducing two new traditions in which no one needs to feel excluded or undervalued. And all of this “budget neutral,” without employees or employers losing out. Well, it’s just a suggestion…

Graphical proposal for a more balanced distribution of the national holidays in the Netherlands
The Great National Holiday Shift

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