Dutch Sailor standing guard with the Golden Coach passing in procession. (Courtesy photo by the Dutch Ministry of Defense)

Bits of the Benelux: Celebrating Prince’s Day in the Netherlands

By Charéll de Koster, USAG Benelux Public Affairs

[Editor’s Note: The following story is the third in the series Bits of the Benelux. This series takes a deep dive into the stories, cultures and traditions found throughout Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany] 

USAG BENELUX - BRUNSSUM, Netherlands – Prince’s Day, or as the Dutch say, “Prinsjesdag,” is held annually on the third Tuesday of September.

While not an official holiday, many Dutch citizens still consider it an important cultural and political occasion. The day (also known as Budget Day) marks the beginning of a new parliamentary year, as well as when the government announces its budget plans and anticipated revenue and expenditures for the upcoming fiscal year.

The Name

Originally, Prince’s Day celebrated the birthday of Prince Willem V. In the 18th century, during the French occupation, Prince’s Day was one of the most popular folk festivals since it allowed supporters of the Dutch monarchy to keep expressing their loyalty towards the Royal House of Orange-Nassau.

Since 1814, Prince’s Day has been used to designate the first official day of Parliament. There is no historical context or official government documentation explaining why the name “Prinsjesdag” was given to the day Parliament opens.

The Third Tuesday of September

The modern Prince’s Day was first held on the first Monday of November, and then later on the third Monday of October.

However, that was still too short a time frame to have the national budget ready before Jan. 1, so in 1848 Prince’s Day changed to the third Monday of September.

Many parliament members disagreed with holding it on a Monday, since it meant those living outside The Hague would have to travel on a Sunday. Christian politicians greatly opposed Sunday travel as it is considered a sabbatical day.

Due to the backlash, since 1887, Budget Day has been held on the third Tuesday of September.

Honorary escort of the Royal Marechaussee. (Courtesy photo by the Dutch Ministry of Defense)

Royal Procession

The Prince’s Day ceremonies begin with the Royal Procession, where King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima depart Palace Noordeinde (one of the three official palaces of the Dutch Royal House) in the Glass Coach along with Crown Princess Catharina-Amalia.

The procession usually ends at the Hall of Knights at The Hague, however this year it will end at the Royal Theater due to ongoing construction in the area.

The Royal Procession is one of the most publicly visible portions of Prince’s Day, with spectators lining up along the route in order to watch the parade.

Besides members of the Royal House, the procession includes officers of the Royal Household, mounted police, a band and various army units.

The procession is usually led by the Johan Willem Friso Royal Military Band, with military personnel from the cavalry, the Grenadiers and Hunters regiment and the Royal Marechaussee (Dutch: Koninklijke Marechaussee, or KMar) forming a mounted honorary escort.

Music can be heard throughout the procession, as various military bands and musicians are placed along the route.

Hundreds of military personnel from all branches of the Dutch armed forces also line the entire parade route, and salute as the Glass Coach and the king pass by.

King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima during the Speech from the Throne in The Hague, Sept. 21, 2022.  (Courtesy photo by ANP)

Speech from the Throne and Budget

Once the procession arrives at the theater, the king and queen meet with their ministers, state secretaries, members of parliament and distinguished guests.

The king then opens the new parliamentary year by reading the Speech from the Throne. The speech covers the current status of the country and presents the government's program for the coming year.

Following the speech, the Prime Minister carries the ceremonial briefcase to the Dutch House of Representatives in order to begin budget deliberations. This briefcase contains the proposed National Budget and Budget Memorandum for the upcoming year.

In the Budget Memorandum, the government outlines its financial plans and specifies the coming year’s anticipated revenue and expenditures.

Revenue in the Netherlands mainly comes from taxes and social insurance contributions, and other sources such as the sale of natural gas.

On the expenditure side, the government documents how much it plans to spend on programs such as education, social security, health care and security. Additionally, it discusses the national and international economic situation and gives an indication of the Dutch financial situation.

Military Link

On royal occasions and national events, the Dutch military plays an important ceremonial role.

Units of the navy, army, air force and KMar perform a variety of tasks, acting as a visual ‘business card’ for the Netherlands.

This close connection between the armed forces and the royal house can be seen during major events such as royal funerals, coronations, the National Remembrance Day and Prince’s Day.

A unique ritual on Prince’s Day is the gun salute by the Corps of Riding Artillery, also known as “Yellow Riders” (Dutch: “Gele Rijders”). Starting with the departure of the Royal Procession from Palace Noordeinde, and continuing during the route back following the king‘s speech, the artillerymen fire a shot every minute.

Hat parade

Another highlight of Prince’s Day for the general public is the “hat parade.”

A fairly recent tradition, since 1977 female attendees of the Speech from the Throne have worn conspicuous hats in order to stand out, serve as tribute to the queen, or even to make political statements.

According to some Dutch media outlets, the size of the women's hats represents the Dutch economic situation that year.

This series, Bits of the Benelux, will continue to explore the many cultural traditions in and around the Benelux. Further stories like this on the local traditions, festivals, and events are scheduled to be published monthly, as they occur.

Additional Resources