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Children’s Songs from the Netherlands

Dutch emigrants often recall with much fondness their favourite Dutch children’s songs, sung to them during childhood. They can usually remember the words, even if they no longer understand the meaning of them. This is not surprising, as most Dutch children’s songs are written with ease of learning and repetition in mind. The songs tend to be brief, employ uncomplicated language and hypnotic rhyme and rely on a catchy tune that children simply can’t resist.

Children’s songs from the Netherlands boast a tradition that goes back hundreds of years, thus the origins and composers are often no longer known. Many songs actually began as folk pieces and were passed orally from one generation to the next. Classified by the period they are from, their intended audience or a particular theme, Dutch nursery rhymes are a living institution and just a few lines is usually enough to precipitate a serious dose of ‘heimwee’ (home sickness) for those Dutch living abroad.

Below is an overview of some of the best loved Dutch children’s songs of all time!

Nursery Rhymes

Dutch children are taught their first nursery rhymes at an incredibly tender age, partly because they are considered educational (and are known to encourage creativity) and partly because they are such good fun and children clearly enjoy expressing themselves musically.

‘Slaap Kindje Slaap’ (Sleep Baby Sleep) is a favourite Dutch lullaby which is traditionally sung for babies and small toddlers, who find it both comforting and easy to memorise.

Slaap kindje slaap
Daar buiten loopt een schaap
Een schaap met witte voetjes
Dat loopt zo zacht en zo zoetjes
Slaap kindje slaap
Daar buiten loopt een schaap

Sleep baby sleep
Outside walks a sheep
A sheep with little white feet
That walks so softly and so sweetly
Sleep baby sleep
Outside walks a sheep

And every Dutch child learns to repeat the soothing words in ‘Poesje Mauw’ (Meow Pussy) from a young age. This song features a number of short sounds that are effortless to pronounce and in a language that toddlers pick up in next to no time.

Poesje mauw
Kom eens gauw
Ik heb lekkere melk voor jou
En voor mij
Rijstebrij
Oh wat heerlijk smullen wij

Meow pussy
Come quickly
I have tasty milk for you
And for me
Rice pudding
Oh what a delicious feast

Historical Songs

Dutch children’s songs frequently emerged from important events in the country’s history. ‘Hoedje van Papier’ (Paper Hat), which alludes to the enlistment of soldiers by King William 1 in 1830, is an intriguing illustration of this. The song refers to the  practice of issuing soldiers with a paper or cloth hat in place of a helmet, due to a lack of military uniforms at that time.

Een twee drie vier, hoedje van, hoedje van
Een twee drie vier, hoedje van papier
Heb je dan geen hoedje meer
Maak er een van bordpapier
Als het hoedje dan niet past
Zet ‘t in de glazen kast
Een twee drie vier, hoedje van papier

One two three four, hat, hat
One two three four, paper hat
If you don’t have a hat
Make one from paper
If the hat doesn’t fit
Put it in the cupboard
One two three four, paper hat

Another, ‘Hop Marjanneke’ (Hip Marjanneke), has the founding of the Batavian Republic and Prince William V as its subject. There is a humorous reference to ‘kale Fransen’ (bald Frenchmen) in the lyrics. Invading French soldiers could not afford to buy wigs (which were very much in fashion during this period) and the Dutch used the words of the song to poke fun at them!

Hop Marjanneke, stroop in het kanneke
laat de poppetjes dansen
eertijds was de prins in het land
en nu die kale Fransen
Hop Marjanneke, stroop in het kanneke
laat de poppetjes dansen
hij wiegt het kind, hij roert de pap
hij laat zijn hondje dansen

Hip Marjanneke, syrup in the can
let the little dolls dance
once the prince was in the country
but now it’s the bald French
Hip Marjanneke, syrup in the can
let the little dolls dance
he cradles the child, he stirs the porridge
he lets his dogs dance

Songs About Holland

Dutch children’s songs also portray local towns, villages and regions in fascinating detail. The folk song ‘Dat Gaat Naar Den Bosch Toe’ (Look Who’s Going to Den Bosch), sometimes called ‘Zoete Lieve Gerritje’ (Dear, Sweet Gerritje), which is based on the 18th century French opera “Le Petit Matelot”, is a classic example of this.

Dat gaat naar Den Bosch toe, zoete lieve Gerritje
Dat gaat naar Den Bosch toe, zoete lieve meid
Wat zullen wij daar drinken, zoete lieve Gerritje
Wat zullen wij daar drinken, zoete lieve meid
Brandewijn met suiker, zoete lieve Gerritje
Brandewijn met suiker, zoete lieve meid
Wie zal dat betalen, zoete lieve Gerritje
Wie zal dat betalen, zoete lieve meid
Den eerste boer den beste, zoete lieve Gerritje
Den eerste boer den beste, zoete lieve meid

Look who’s going to Den Bosch, dear sweet Gerritje
Look who’s going to Den Bosch, dear sweet girl
What shall we drink there, dear sweet Gerritje
What shall we drink there, dear sweet girl
Brandy with sugar, dear sweet Gerritje
Brandy with sugar, dear sweet girl
Who will pay, dear sweet Gerritje
Who will pay, dear sweet girl
Best the first farmer, dear sweet Gerritje
Best the first farmer, dear sweet girl

‘Twee Emmertjes Water Halen’ (Fetch Two Little Buckets of Water) is a firm favourite with Dutch children and its mention of clogs gives it a uniquely Dutch flavour.

Twee emmertjes water halen
Twee emmertjes pompen
De meisjes op de klompen
De jongens op een houten been
Rij maar door het straatje heen
En van je ras, ras ras
Rijdt de koning door de plas
Van je erk, erk, erk
Rijdt de koning door de kerk
Van je ie, ie, ie
Rijdt de koning op je knie
Van je een, twee, drie

Fetch two little buckets of water
Pump two little buckets
The girls on clogs
The boys on a wooden leg
Ride through the lane
And an uddle, uddle, uddle
The king rides through the puddle
And an urch, urch, urch
The king rides through the church
And a pee, pee, pee
The king rides on your knee
A one, two, three

The subject of emigration is touched upon in the popular ‘Berend Botje’. Even today, there is continued speculation as to who Berend Botje actually was. Many claim he was a gentleman from the province of Drenthe, while others maintain that he was actually a heroic sailor who fought at the Battle of Navarino before heading for the United States. Others believe the song tells the story of a simple farmer who travelled from Borger to Zuidlaren, never to return.

Berend Botje ging uit varen
Met zijn scheepje naar Zuidlaren
De weg was recht, de weg was krom
Nooit kwam Berend Botje weerom
Een, twee, drie, vier, vijf, zes, zeven
Waar is Berend Botje gebleven?
Hij is niet hier, hij is niet daar
Hij is naar Amerika

Berend Botje went out sailing
With his little ship to Zuidlaren
The way was straight, the way was curved
Berend Botje never came back again
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven
Where is Berend Botje?
He is not here, he is not there
He went to America

Educational Songs

Dutch Children’s songs are highly educational – they not only assist young children in mastering the complex Dutch language, they also set out firm guidelines on expected conduct. The importance of regular church attendance is emphasised in ‘Altijd is Kortjakje Ziek’ (Kortjakje is always sick), a song about a little girl who despite being bedridden throughout the week, still manages to visit church every Sunday.

Altijd is Kortjakje ziek
Midden in de week maar ‘s zondags niet
‘s Zondags gaat zij naar de kerk
Met haar boek vol zilverwerk
Altijd is Kortjakje ziek
Midden in de week maar ‘s zondags niet

Kortjakje is always sick
During the week but not on Sunday
On Sunday she goes to church
With her silver plated book
Kortjakje is always sick
During the week but not on Sunday

The fairy-tale song ‘Naar bed, Naar Bed’ (To Bed, To Bed) is also packed with symbolic warnings about bad behaviour, such as telling fibs or tales!

Naar bed, naar bed, zei Duimelot
Eerst nog wat eten, zei Likkepot
Waar kan ik dat vinden? zei Lange Jan
In grootmoeders kastje, zei Ringeling
Dat zal ik verklappen, zei ‘t Kleine ding

To bed, to bed, said Duimelot
First something to eat, said Likkepot
Where shall I find that asked Long John?
In grandmother’s cupboard, said Ringeling
I shall tell, said the Little thing

Contemporary Nursery Rhymes

A good number of Dutch children’s songs were written in the last fifty years or so. Many, such as ‘Elsie Fiederelsje’ by Herman Broekhuizen, have become such an established part of Dutch culture that they are often mistakenly believed to be much older.

Elsje fiederelsje, zet je klompjes bij ‘t vuur
Moeder bakt pannenkoeken, maar het meel is zo duur
Tingelinge pannenkoek, meel met rozijnen
Tingelinge pannenkoek, kom op bezoek

Elsie fiederelsje, place your shoes by the fire
Mother is frying pancakes, but the flour is so expensive
Tingelinge pancake, flour and raisins
Tingelinge pancake, come and visit

The late Annie MG Schmidt was a prolific Dutch writer, responsible for many of the most enduring contemporary Dutch children’s songs. Her skill was in accentuating the flaws and eccentricities of adults (in addition to highlighting  the naughty streak in children), in a totally original way. Her most acclaimed work is ‘Ik Ben Lekker Stout’ (I’m Deliciously Naughty).

Ik wil niet meer, ik wil niet meer!
Ik wil geen handjes geven!
Ik wil niet zeggen elke keer:
Jawel mevrouw, jawel meneer…
nee, nooit meer in m’n leven!

Ik hou m’n handen op m’n rug
en ik zeg lekker niks terug!
Ik wil geen vieze havermout,
ik wil geen tandjes poetsen!

Ik wil lekker knoeien met het zout,
ik wil niet aardig zijn, maar stout
en van de leuning roetsen
en schipbreuk spelen in de teil
en ik wil spugen op het zeil!

En heel hard stampen in een plas
en dan m’n tong uitsteken
en morsen op m’n nieuwe jas
en ik wil overmorgen pas
weer met twee woorden spreken!

En ik wil alles wat niet mag,
de hele dag, de hele dag!
En ik wil op de kanapee
met hele vuile schoenen
en ik wil aldoor gillen: nee!

En ik wil met de melkboer mee
en dan het paardje zoenen.
En dat is alles wat ik wil
en als ze kwaad zijn, zeg ik: Bil!
I do not want any more, I refuse!
I do not want to hold your hand!
I don’t want to say every time:
Yes miss, yes sir …
no, never in my life!

I hold my hands behind my back
and say preferably nothing!
I do not want horrid oatmeal,
I don’t want to brush my teeth!

I prefer to play with salt,
I don’t want to be nice, but naughty
and slide down the banister
and play shipwreck in the tub
and I want to spit on the sail!

And splash in a puddle
and then stick out my tongue
and spill stuff on my new coat
and I will only speak again
the day after tomorrow!

And I want all I’m not allowed,
all day long, all day long!
And I want to step on the sofa
with very dirty shoes
and I want to scream out loud: No!

And I want to go with the milkman
and kiss the little horse.
And that’s all I want
and if they are angry, I say: Bum!

8 comments on “Children’s Songs from the Netherlands

  1. Mark Belden
    21/04/2016

    My grandmother sang a tune that sounded like Wadda come fa-so…

  2. Joshua
    28/02/2016

    my mother sang a song to me as a child in the bathtub. no clue on spelling, but something like jan houga in den ton met dem hoppeches it up, jan houga….

    and then she would speak the part of the body she was washing.

    ANY IDEA NAME OF SONG OR LYRICS?

    • hollandathome
      24/03/2016

      Hey Joshua! Nice to hear you want to bring up old Dutch memories!
      The song we at Holland at Home can think of is Jan Huigen in de ton.
      Hope this helps!

  3. Mar
    18/07/2015

    is there a dutch song for children about three tiny “kloteches” …..sitting on something. My mother used to sing it to me and I would love to find the lyrics!

    • hollandathome
      28/07/2015

      Yes there is! It’s called ‘Drie kleine kleutertjes’:

      Drie kleine kleutertjes die zaten op een hek,
      Boven op een hek.
      Drie kleine kleutertjes die zaten op een hek.
      Op een mooie warme dag in september.

      Waarover spraken zij, die drie daar op dat hek,
      Boven op dat hek?
      Waarover spraken zij, die drie daar op dat hek,
      Op een mooie warme dag in september?

      ‘t Was over krekeltjes en korenbloemen blauw,
      Korenbloemen blauw.
      ‘t Was over krekeltjes en korenbloemen blauw.
      Op een mooie warme dag in september.

      Team Holland at Home

  4. Pingback: Weird and wonderful Dutch houses | Dutch Community

  5. Christine Horsburgh
    22/01/2013

    Where can I buy these books with baby and childerns songs

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