Ascension Day, celebrated 40 days after Easter, is a public holiday in the Netherlands. Technically, Ascension comes 39 days after Easter but 40 days “counting inclusively.” It always lands on a Thursday, and most people take off the following Friday to create a four-day weekend.
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The Netherlands has historically been a Christian nation and, since the early 1500’s, a Protestant nation. Today, however, some 40 percent of the population is secular, non-Christian religions account for a tenth of the population, and Christianity is a plurality but no longer a majority religion.
It is traditional to hold special church services, for both Catholics and Protestants, on Ascension Day, to commemorate the day on which the Resurrected Christ ascended to Heavenly glory to be seated on the right hand of the Father. Only about one in 20 Netherlands’ citizens attend church even one a month, but some churches will still hold services on Ascension Day, or as the Dutch call it, “Hemelvaartsdag.”
In Amsterdam, Ascension Day comes and goes with little notice. Museums, shopping centers, and all manner of tourist shops and stops, plus authentic Dutch dining establishments, all remain open. In the southern Netherlands, you may find some processions and celebrations at Catholic churches. In the “Dutch Bible Belt,” running from Zeeland through northern Overijssel, Protestantism is still strong. You are more likely to find Protestant Ascension services held there.
Should you visit the Netherlands for Ascension Day, here are some ideas on what to do:
- Keep an old Dutch custom called Dauwtrappen, or “kicking the dew.” The tradition is to rise very early, before the sun rises, and go about the countryside walking, jogging, or riding a bike. This is an excellent opportunity to view the scenic Dutch landscapes, including the many windmills and canals.
- Attend the popular music festival called “Green Vibrations” in the town of Enschede. The musical genres represented are diverse, ranging from rock to folk styles, but the talent is predominantly local to Enschede. There will be many performances, public decorations, a festival market with small shops and food trucks. The festival takes place every Ascension Day.
- Not quite in the Netherlands but very near the border and a big celebration of note is the Ascension Day procession in Bruges, in the Belgian state of West Flanders. The event is very big, and the city largely shuts down to participate. In the “Procession of Blood,” marchers in Medieval costume carry “holy blood” of a revered past saint through the streets in a vial. The event has taken place annually since the year 1291.
Those visited the Netherlands during Ascension Day will find that there are only a few organised events to attend, but some of these are rather exciting. And there are still some church services and lingering traditions. Plus, there are always the many year-round attractions.