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NL Almanac

Remembrance Day and Liberation Day

Dutch 4-5 May holidays — no celebration without commemoration

WW2 monument

Their slogan was “no celebration without commemoration”, so Remembrance Day always fell before Liberation Day

The big event of the day in many Dutch towns is an open air pop festival featuring top acts.

The Netherlands is unique amongst its neighbours in having two national holidays stemming from the second World War: Remembrance Day – ‘Dodenherdenking’ and Liberation Day – ‘Bevrijdingsdag’.

On 4 May there are solemn ceremonies commemorating all the Dutch who have died in conflicts worldwide. On 5 May, there is a celebration of freedom everywhere, now and in the future, especially where it is threatened. The two days have changed in character over the years but still reflect the significance of the second World War in the Dutch psyche.

The rituals

Remembrance Day — 4 May: The official, nationally televised commemoration begins in the evening with a service at a church in central Amsterdam, after which veterans and victims’ relatives lay wreaths at the National War Memorial on nearby Dam square. Church bells ring for a quarter of an hour till 8 pm, when there is a nationwide two-minute silence. Dignitaries and other victims’ groups then lay more wreaths and a child reads out a self-written poem, selected by a local jury. A ceremonial procession past the National War Memorial marks the end of proceedings.

Liberation Day — 5 May: The Prime Minister launches the day’s events, traditionally from a different province each year. There follow cultural readings and exhibitions reflecting that year’s topical theme. The big event of the day in many Dutch towns is an open air pop festival featuring top acts. These events are designed to get young people involved. In the evening, there is an official, televised concert at the Amstel Bridge in Amsterdam, attended by the King and Queen and government ministers.

Origins

In the early years, Remembrance Day reflected a more sombre public mood. All over Holland there were silent processions in memory of fallen local Resistance members and fellow citizens shot by the Germans. Their slogan was “no celebration without commemoration”, so Remembrance Day always fell before Liberation Day. Their well-attended processions contrasted with the rather stuffy, official commemoration in the Hague. It took the Dutch government until the eighties to come up with a unified, national format for the proceedings which in some way emulated the atmosphere of those early local, silent processions.

Although the war continued in the Far East and the Netherlands was not fully liberated until August 1945, it was soon decided that Liberation Day should be held on 5 May, the date of the German army’s capitulation. It used to be the poor relative of Remembrance Day, only being celebrated once every five years from the sixties to the late seventies. Nowadays it is a popular, festive occasion whose stated aim is not just to celebrate Holland’s liberation from the German occupation between 1940-45 but also to cherish freedom and democracy worldwide.

External resources

Hannie Schaft: symbol of the resistance
To gain an understanding of why these ceremonies are so important check out this excellent article on haarlemshuffle.com.