Where can you find some strange events in the Netherlands? These are my top 3 traditional Dutch festivals involving orange hats, herring for breakfast and single men holding hands.

#1 Fluttering young men

In Ootmarsum, Overijssel, they’re looking for young men. They are trained to perform in a annual local Easter celebration. For outsiders one of those strange events in the Netherlands, to insiders a chance to get noticed. There’s no sense in applying for the function of poaskerel, unless you’ve been living in this rural town in the east of the Netherlands your whole life.  Besides being a local, these are  the vacancy’s specifications:

  • you have to be around 20 years old
  • catholic
  • and single with no intention of getting married in the next four years.

Do you fit these requirements?  You can become a poaskerel!  I would translate this term as Easter fellow.  As a poaskerel you take part in a local tradition called  vlöggeln, local dialect for fluttering.I While you  hold hands with your 7 fellow poaskerln you flutter through the streets singing two Easter songs. The best part of this remarkable event in Eastern Netherlands: the route takes you right through houses and local cafés. Inside the cafés there’s always a drink waiting for you. The market square is the end of the route. Locals and tourists are waiting for you to perform the last part. Here you pick up one of the kids waiting there and lift it three times adding a joyful ‘hurray, hurray, hurray’.

The lifting of the children symbolises the resurrection of Christ. They say the tradition itself dates from 1840. An interesting celebration, but definitely also one of the weirdest events in the Netherlands.

#2 Local wake-up call

When you are in the Netherlands in October, I would definitely recommend a visit to the Leidens Ontzet  – Relief of Leiden -. Now this local festival in itself is not that weird. It is included here as one of the strange events in the Netherlands for a reason.

This Leiden festival’s highlight is on the 3rd of October. On this day in 1574 the city was liberated from the Spanish occupation. Actually  there was a crucial turning point which happened in the night of the 2nd of October. The next day, early in the morning, the Dutch rebels or ‘waterbeggars’ entered the city handing out food. The city of Leiden likes their local traditions and has not changed the starting time of the Leidens Ontzet. At 7 AM locals gather in front of the Leiden city hall to sing the national anthem. Leiden wouldn’t be Leiden without adding a local touch to this early morning singalong. The city added a local anthem and some other local songs.

After the gathering a marching band goes through the streets to make sure everyone’s awake and ready to attend the Leiden herring party. The waterbeggars handed out Wittebrood & haring – white bread and herring-  to the people in 1574 . And now, the municipality still gives the traditional food to Leiden citizens. Due to the early starting time and the food eaten at this hour I’ve added this on my top 3 of strange events in the Netherlands.

#3 Polar bears and orange hats

There is no better way to cure your New Year’s Eve hangover than with a dive in the freezing North Sea. Polar bear plunges are not typical Dutch. In Vancouver, Canada there is a real Polar Bear Swim Club organising the dive every year. They started in 1920. In the Netherlands this tradition became known in the 1960’s. The first New Year’s dive was in Zandvoort, a coastal city near Amsterdam. Scheveningen, the beach resort near The Hague, ‘only’ held its first plunge in the new year of 1965.

A brand known for typical Dutch winter food picked up on the event and became its sponsor.  It promoted the event so well  that the organisation due to safety reasons can only allow 10.000 people to participate.  The sponsor hands out orange hats. A funny, but slightly strange sight to see a crowd wearing nothing more than a bathing suit and a orange beanie hat . And after the Scheveningen New Year’s Dive there is typical Dutch erwtensoep – pea soup- with rookworst – smoked sausage- . Of course.

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