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Throwing a Party – Dutch Style!

A ‘Bring Your Own’ (BYO) party in the UK or the US is often also known as a ‘Dutch party’, perhaps in reference to the Dutch reputation for frugality! Paradoxically, the Dutch typically expect their party host to provide all the refreshments and usually arrive at celebrations armed only with a gift.

Dutch Birthday Parties

For Children

The majority of Dutch children celebrate their birthday by throwing a large party for friends and classmates, usually held at home after school. This is meticulously planned and carefully organised by doting parents, starting with the creation of hand made invitations which the children hand out several weeks in advance.

When the big day finally arrives, Dutch children fully expect to be the centre of attention. Their school day begins with a round of birthday songs performed by classmates in their honour and the presentation of a colourful hat which they gladly wear throughout the day. Next, in a flurry of excitement, the birthday boy or girl distributes a number of traditional Dutch birthday treats, including ‘dropjes’ (Dutch liquorice), ‘stroopwafels’ and chocolate. These days health conscious parents prefer to send their child to school with a less fattening array of goodies, such as ‘ontbijtkoek’ (low calorie gingerbread) or vitamin rich fruit. At the end of the school day the children head to the party venue, which being the only house in the street decorated with balloons and garlands, is extremely hard to miss!

Upon arrival, eager children gather around the dining table, where an extravagant birthday cake, topped with glowing candles, takes centre stage. They sing another fervent round of ‘Happy Birthday’ before the birthday child blows out the candles and the cake is finally served. Then, with sticky fingers, the children present their birthday gifts and embark upon a round of fun party games designed to keep them thoroughly entertained until dinner. The birthday meal is likely to include a delicious selection of Dutch childrens’ favourites, including ‘pannenkoeken met schenkstroop’ (pancakes and syrup), ‘poffertjes met boter en poedersuiker‘ (mini pancakes with butter and icing sugar) or ‘frites met fritessaus en appelmoes’ (chips with apple sauce and mayonnaise).

For Grown ups

Dutch adults favour an evening birthday party – the first guests start to show up around 8.00 pm, when they greet the host with a gift, a heart felt ‘gefeliciteerd’ (congratulations) and three kisses on the cheek (a typical Dutch greeting). Curiously they also congratulate all those present, which can be a source of confusion for foreigners, who often attempt to clarify that it isn’t actually their birthday, much to the amusement of their Dutch friends! Party guests are given a cup of coffee and a slice of cake or a stroopwafel and invited to take a seat in a specially arranged circle of chairs. Soft drinks quickly progress to wine, beer and spirits served with a variety of Dutch ‘borrelhapjes’ (party snacks) such as ‘borrelnootjes’ (nuts), Dutch cheese, sliced sausage, ‘bitterballen’ (meat croquettes) and ‘vlammetjes’ (spicy spring rolls). Young Dutch adults regularly party until the wee hours and the celebrations can prove disruptive for neighbours, particularly as noisy guests like to give a blast of their car horn upon departure.

Reaching fifty is an important milestone in the Netherlands, as when someone turns fifty they are said to ‘see Abraham or Sarah’ (a symbolic reference to biblical characters). In honour of this momentous occasion and under the cover of darkness, family and friends secretly place a life-size doll of an old man or woman in their front garden. Over this they boldly hang the name ‘Abraham’ or ‘Sarah’ which much to the dismay of the person turning fifty, lets the entire street know that they are about to celebrate a landmark half century!

Wedding Parties

Despite the fact that fewer Dutch couples choose to get married these days, when they do tie the knot, it calls for a huge party. The official wedding ceremony is followed by a relatively formal reception, where coffee and cakes are served, while a more lavish affair is held for close family and friends later that evening. The evening reception commences with an elaborate meal during which there are several speeches, small performances and sometimes even a few songs. The bride and groom happily pose for photos, theatrically cut the wedding cake and take their first dance as man and wife, before the party really gets going. Traditionally, they are presented with a number of wedding gifts, although many couples nowadays request cash that can be donated to a favoured charitable cause.

Celebrating the Birth of a Child

The American style ‘baby shower’, a party where expectant mothers receive a number of gifts, is not at all common in the Netherlands. Dutch parents prefer to wait until after the baby is born and both mother and child are fit and well, before inviting guests to celebrate with a party. Then, family and friends take it in turns to visit with a present for baby and to enjoy ‘beschuit met muisjes’ (biscuits with mice). This uniquely Dutch treat consists of a rusk-like biscuit coated in butter and brightly topped with pink or blue (depending on the child’s gender) aniseed flavoured sprinkles. Proud parents display a wooden stork in their garden and decorate their living room with an arrangement of congratulations cards, in honour of their exciting new arrival.

Graduation Parties

The final weeks before graduation from high school is a gruelling time for Dutch students, thanks not only to all that cramming for exams, but also to an excessive amount of partying. And a formal graduation ceremony, where students receive their diploma, is customarily followed by a big bash for fellow classmates, friends and family. The graduation party is a rite of passage where copious amounts of alcohol are soaked up in true student-style, with piles of unhealthy snacks such as crisps, nuts and crackers. After graduation, triumphant Dutch graduates hang both the Dutch flag and their satchel, stuffed with old textbooks, outside their bedroom window to symbolise the end of a (hopefully) productive school career.

2 comments on “Throwing a Party – Dutch Style!

  1. Pilas
    18/07/2012

    Hi, Thanks for an informative post. I’ve been wondering about the rules for who to invite to a kids party in the house and I can’t seem to find that info anywhere. Is it for example ok to invite just a few of the class mates/friends or should it be come one come all?

    Thanks again.

    • Iris W.
      18/07/2012

      Hi Pilas,

      It’s very common to invite just a few classmates/friends.

      Have fun!

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