Ever wondered why the Dutch wear orange to pretty much any national occasion if the colour is not even in their flag? I wouldn’t be surprised if you cut a Dutchman and he bled orange juice, the colour is so rooted in their national identity. 😜
Perhaps you’ve been stampeded by the hoards of orange football fans that flood the streets during big matches, or drowned in the explosion of orange that consumes every Dutch city on King’s Day. It’s truly a spectacle to behold, but what’s behind this obsession with orange? Shouldn’t they all be dressed in red, white or blue?
Well, as it happens, orange has been a national colour in the Netherlands for hundreds of years. But before we get into that, let’s take a closer look at this carrot-colored adoration…
Why do the Dutch wear orange on King’s Day?
If you’re not familiar with the celebration, King’s Day is a national holiday in the Netherlands during which the entire nation dresses in orange, drinks beer and celebrates the king’s birthday. And boy, do they celebrate.
The canals overflow with boats of what look like giant oompa loompas drinking themselves to death, occasionally singing: Oranje boven, oranje boven, leve de koning! (Orange above all, orange above all, long live the king!) So naturally, the Dutch romance with orange is tied to the Royal Family — the House of Orange-Nassau.
The lineage began with the famous William of Orange, who was crowned Prince of Orange in 1544. With his leadership, the colour orange became a symbol of the Dutch Royal family. The popularity of old Willy comes down to much more than just being a passive heir to the throne though, so who exactly was he?
Who was William of Orange?
William of Orange, also known as William the Silent or William I, was named heir to the county of Orange by René of Chalon, who himself died with no children. William went on to lead the Dutch Revolt against the Spanish occupation of the Netherlands during the Eighty Years’ War (Dutch War of Independence, 1568–1648). His leadership was extremely influential for the rebellion, contributing to the official independence of the United Provinces of the Netherlands in 1648.
He is known as the father of the Netherlands, bringing unity to the region for the first time. But he is also the first ancestor of the current Royal Family, and is thus the founder of this era of Dutch monarchy. So his name, and the bright colour that goes with it, symbolise the Dutch state.
The town of Orange, France
Orange, historically known as Oranghien by the Dutch, is a town in modern-day southern France. For many years it was a county state under the Holy Roman Empire before it became a part of France in 1713. This is where, in 1544, William of Nassau became Prince William of Orange.
Why do Dutch football fans wear orange?
Today, many national sports teams from the Netherlands dress totally in orange, including of course the Oranje (Orange), the nickname of the Dutch national football team. The army of sports fans that follow them are known as the Oranje Legioen (Orange Legion) with an almost magical ability to turn every bar, stadium and street they hit completely orange. The phenomenon is known as Oranjekoorts (Orange Fever) and becomes just as crazy as it sounds.
So, this love of orange is clearly not a small one, and it comes back to the same reason the Dutch wear the hue on King’s Day. Where orange originally symbolized the Dutch Royal Family, it soon became a symbol for Dutch national pride and the country at large.
Why is the Dutch flag not orange?
The flag was actually originally orange, white and blue, designed by William of Orange himself. Dutch soldiers during the war of independence even wore this colour to battle. However, at the end of this war, the orange band was changed to red. Historians have a few theories as to why.
The first theory is that the dye used to stain the flags orange was prone to changing to a red colour over time, and so to avoid confusion the flag was officially changed to red. Other historians believe the change was a result of the 1654 English-Dutch defense treaty, which banned any member of the House of Orange from becoming head of the Dutch state.
Theory three is that the new Dutch flag was based on the Bavarian coat of arms since between 1354 and 1433 the county of Holland had been ruled by their House of Wittelsbach.
But regardless of the switch, orange stuck around in Dutch hearts and continues to represent proud, loud Dutchness in all its quirks and charms.
When not to wear orange in the Netherlands
Wearing orange in the Netherlands will certainly win you brownie points on almost any day of the year. Except perhaps this day — April 30.
Before the king’s succession in 2013, King’s Day was in fact Queen’s Day, in honour of Queen Beatrix. It was celebrated on April 30 but of course switched to April 27 when the king came to the throne. But since the change, many tourists have still arrived in the Netherlands fully dressed in orange on April 30 to celebrate the queen. These oblivious enthusiasts became known as vergistoeristen — mistake tourists. Oh dear.
In general though, the Dutch are not particularly nationalistic and don’t wear orange on Prinsjedag (Budget Day) or Rememberance Day. You might see a little orange on Liberation Day, but certainly not to the degree of real Orange Fever. The colour is mainly reserved for sporting events and King’s Day.