Dutch birthday traditions

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A birthday is always a cause for celebration! Just like with other celebrations, each country will have their own traditions and rituals, and the Dutch are no different. Are you an expat and have you been invited to a Dutch birthday party? Gefeliciteerd! Do you want to celebrate your own birthday here or are you curious as to what the Dutch do on their yearly birthday party? With this guide to Dutch birthdays, you are guaranteed to not have any surprises, and you will fit in right away.

1. You congratulate everyone

In other countries the norm is to congratulate only the birthday person. However, in the Netherlands it is the norm to congratulate everyone upon your arrival. That is right, you will be expected to say Gefeliciteerd to the person’s parents, grandparents, siblings and friends, as you are in the kitchen working on the next batch of coffees (more of this on our next point) Sometimes, even the parents of the birthday person will receive a message on their phone with a congratulations.

2. Coffee and cake come first

If you are used to drinking alcohol at a party, chances are you will be a bit disappointed at first. But have no fear, any drink preference you have can sure be fulfilled after you have had the mandatory cup of coffee first. In addition, if you come from a place where cake is eaten as dessert you will also be set for a surprise: cake in a Dutch birthday is eaten at the beginning of the party! In the South of the Netherlands, there will be “Vlaai”(translation: tart) instead of cake. A Vlaai is a traditional dessert to have on your birthday.

3. Party or intervention?

After you have congratulated everyone and accepted a cup of coffee and a slice of cake, it will be time to grab a chair and join the big circle of people that forms the party. Should you not know that this is how the Dutch arrange their parties, you might think that you have joined a group therapy or an intervention! But sitting in a circle is one of the biggest Dutch traditions. It ensures that everyone is included, and everyone can join in on the conversation.

If the weather is good, there will be a white tent in the garden and the party will take place there, with the addition of standing tables.

4. Dutch Snacks

In the center of the circle you will find the snacks carefully laid out. The all-time classics include, stuffed eggs, cheese cubes, various toasts with spreads, nuts, sausage and of course cake. The Dutch will not usually have something warm prepared so keep this in mind if you are expecting a full 3 course meal!

5. Giant inflatables for a 50th birthday

If you have ever been in a family neighbourhood there is a chance that you have seen a giant inflatable doll (male or female) with the number 50 in it. Let us give you some context.

A 50th birthday is usually very important in The Netherlands and thus it is celebrated in a big wat! A man who turns 50 years old is said to “have seen Abraham:, and a woman turning 50 years old is said to “have seen Sarah”. The names are biblical references to the old couple Abraham and Sarah.

The Dutch celebrate this milestone by renting a giant inflatable doll of around 4m high and put it in the front of the birthday person’s house. A lot of shops will have dozens of options, making it possible to choose the doll that most resembles the birthday person!

If you have ever attended a Dutch birthday party please let us know in the comments what caught your attention the most! What birthday traditions are there in your country?


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