Easter is celebrated in a more secular way in modern Netherlands. Although both Easter Sunday and Easter Monday are official holidays, they are often thought of more as a vacation and family time rather than emphasizing the religious aspect.
|2020||10 Apr||Fri||Good Friday|
|12 Apr||Sun||Easter Sunday|
|13 Apr||Mon||Easter Monday|
|2021||2 Apr||Fri||Good Friday|
|4 Apr||Sun||Easter Sunday|
|5 Apr||Mon||Easter Monday|
The Netherlands, from the time of the Reformation, had long been a stronghold of Protestant Dutch Reformed Church and a bastion of religious liberty and religious fervor. However, beginning in the 20th Century, the country gradually became more secular, and today, 55 percent of the Netherlands’ 17 million people ascribe allegiance to no religious group whatsoever and only 5.6 percent attend church even once a month. Additionally, instead of the historic breakdown of two-thirds Protestant and one-third Catholic, it is now one-quarter Catholic and one-tenth Protestant. The only exception to this trend toward a more secular society has been the resilience of the Dutch Bible Belt in the north and the growth of Islam and Hinduism through immigration.
Chocolate eggs and the Easter Bunny, though in Netherlands he is called the “Paashaas” (Easter Hare), are features shared with most Western secular Easter traditions. However, as we shall see, there are also many unique Dutch traditions as well.
On Easter Sunday
When Easter Morning arrives, Dutch children will take to decorating Easter eggs, painting them in bright colors. Many paint very elaborate patterns on these eggs and use an egg stand to prevent the paint/dye from smudging or making a mess on their fingers or elsewhere. About 35 million such eggs are eaten every Easter weekend, which is two for every person in the country.
The finished eggs, along with chocolate eggs, will be hidden by parents, and the kids will engage in an Easter egg hunt. If the weather allows, it will take place outside, often in the family garden. Otherwise, the hunt will take place inside the house. Eggs, along with other ornaments such as butterflies, bows, and rabbits, will also be attached to “Easter Trees,” that are traditionally used to decorate the house for the season.
After the egg hunt, the Dutch generally eat a traditional Easter brunch or breakfast. Many also eat this meal a second time on Easter Monday as well. The feast is large and eaten in a relaxed manner. It includes such foods as Easter eggs, Dutch cheeses, crackers, smoked salmon and eel, a rabbit or lamb shaped slab of butter, and various bread products such as rolls, croissants, and paasstol (Dutch Easter bread). Paastol has fruits baked into it throughout and almond paste in the center. The breakfast table itself is made festive with carefully arranged painted eggs, candles, willow branches, and flowers such as tulips, hyacinths, and daffodils.
On Easter Monday
While Easter Sunday is more of an “at-home day,” Easter Monday is a day when families and friends like to go out on excursions. If weather permits, they typically go to amusement parks, countryside furniture stores, various retail outlets, garden supply centers, home improvement stores, and more. Shops are open far longer on Easter Monday than usual in order to capitalize on the abundance of shoppers. Besides shopping and entertainment, bicycling across the early spring countryside is also popular. Finally, sitting at home and watching t.v. Easter specials like Ben Hur, life of Christ films, and Jesus Christ Super Star has also become an Easter Monday tradition.
Many school children will bring an “Easter breakfast box” to primary schools around Easter time, which they will give as a gift to one of their classmates. The box is often a well adorned shoe box, and it is filled with delicious treats. However, some “progressive” schools have recently banned jams, chocolate, and white bread from these breakfast boxes, making things like cheese sandwiches more commonly included.
In many northern provinces of the Netherlands, a pre-Christian tradition of lighting bonfires persists. A gigantic fire is built by locals in each town or village, either on Easter Sunday or Monday.
In the town of Ootmarsum, during “Vlöggelen,” a group of singers headed by eight “Poaskearls” (Easter guys) goes through the village singing traditional songs. The whole town’s population holds hands as they march through the streets, and many raise their children into the air to symbolize Christ’s Resurrection.
In the town of Denekamp, “paasstaakslepen” is a local celebration wherein local villagers go into the woods to cut down a tree, which they then bring back to the village. The tree is erected, and burning tar is placed on its peak. Both this celebration and that of Vlöggelen mentioned above conclude with the lighting of Easter bonfires.
A Threatened Easter Tradition
After the egg hunt on Easter morning, it has long been traditional to sit down and watch the Pope give an Easter speech- and not just for Catholics. The reason is that, for around 30 years, Netherlands has supplied 42,000 Easter tulips to St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome, and the Pope always appears to publicly thank the Dutch for this gift. He is expected to say, “Bedankt voor de bloemen,” which is Dutch for “Thank you for the flowers.” However, when Pope Francis recently said this phrase in Italian instead, it caused an uproar. To make matters worse, the group responsible for donating the flowers each year is facing budget cuts and considering ending this three-decades-old tradition in the near future.
Three Easter events, besides those already mentioned above, that anyone visiting Netherlands around Easter time might wish to attend are:
- The performance of Johann Sebastian Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion at the Concertgebouw of Amsterdam. While you can hear the piece performed at many local concert halls, the Good Friday performance in Amsterdam is particularly famous.
- Paaspop, which is a huge music fest in Schijndel that has been held annually since 1978. There are multiple stages, numerous bands, and three days of performances. The crowds are usually quite large.
- The Easter races in Zandvoort. These races mark the commencement of the Dutch racing season, and many make a point of visiting the race track at this time of year.
Easter in the Netherlands has become a rather secular affair in recent decades, but there are still many interesting traditions and worthwhile events. Anyone planning on visiting Holland should consider scheduling their visit to coincide with Easter weekend.