30 Apr 2009

Today is Queen’s Day in the Netherlands, the day when we celebrate the Queen’s birthday on the date of our previous Queen’s birthday. It is a happy day, with music festivals all over the country, flags everywhere and many people dressed in our national colour orange. To an outsider we must seem like an extremely monarchist and nationalist country, celebrating the Queen’s birthday so exuberantly, but I don’t think that’s really it. The beautiful thing about Queen’s Day is the fact that we can just be happy, together, without any particular reason. The Queen’s birthday is just a good excuse. It is very much like when winning the World Cup, but without the football and crucially, without a losing team. There are no enemies on Queen’s Day, no opposing groups or religious disagreements. In a time when worries about economic crisis, swine flu and terrorist attacks dominate our lives, this day of careless celebration seems all the more important.

And that’s why today’s events have been so shocking: a man drove his car at high speed through the celebrating crowds, presumably en route to attack the royal family who at that moment were passing through. Four people are dead, five severely injured and the nation is in mourning.

Like so many public events, Queen’s Day has now also lost its careless innocence and will probably never be the same again.