The Orange Order’s celebrations on 12th July can’t hold a candle to the Netherlands when it comes to a display of orange on the streets.
April 27 was King’s Day in the Netherlands and, armed with cameras, Sarah Stone (from our BMS communications team) and I spent the day tramping the streets of Amsterdam. Orange hats of all shapes and sizes, orange T-shirts, orange head bands and garlands, even orange wigs and sun glasses, were in abundance. As the day progressed the canals of Amsterdam filled up with party boats snaking along the major canals like one long floating conga. Coloured smoke, orange ticker tape and blaring music filled the air. Bridges and major junctions were crammed with spectators enjoying the spectacle and party atmosphere. Coming from Northern Ireland I’m used to orange parades – but not quite like this.
There are notable similarities and differences between the Dutch and Northern Irish celebrations. Identity and monarchy feature in both. King’s Day, like the 12th July, is a national celebration celebrating national identity. Many households have the national flag flying from the front of the house (which is of course red, white and blue) and the monarchy is central to the purpose of the celebration. Alcohol flows in abundance and the day ends with the streets knee deep in litter. Amsterdam on King’s Day, Belfast on 12th July – these things they have in common.
Of course, there is also the not insignificant matter of the historical commonalities. The orange in the Netherlands and the orange in Northern Ireland share a common origin. It was the Dutchman, Prince William of Orange who became William lll of England (or King Billy as he’s known back home) who established a Protestant monarchy in place of the Catholic King James ll at the end of the 17th Century. The matter was settled in 1690 at the Battle of the Boyne in Ireland, the event commemorated each 12th July.
The differences today are as striking as the similarities. King’s Day in the Netherlands has little or nothing by way of religious association – in fact most of the people Sarah and I interviewed on the streets happily pronounced themselves to be atheists. Unlike the 12th July, celebrations in the Netherlands are not sanctified by religious clerics sermonising about the glories of Protestantism. The Dutch party spirit (certainly in Amsterdam) celebrates in the style of the most libertarian of European societies, which is most definitely not the case in Northern Ireland. While the 12th July publically rejoices in the ascendancy of Protestantism over Catholicism in the 17th Century, King’s Day in the Netherlands reflects the increasing secularisation of 21st Century Europe.
And yet, it seems to me that there is something vaguely familiar about both celebrations. Both are pointless. I know that may offend some people, but it’s hard to see much point in either celebration. The 12th July, at best, reflects a ‘cultural’ tradition and, at worst, is a publicly authorised expression of naked sectarianism. King’s Day in Amsterdam seems to offer little more than an opportunity for a superficial celebration of national identity and a legitimised trashing of the city. I do like my hat though, very fetching don’t you think?