How to celebrate Easter, the Dutch way
Spring is upon us and Easter weekend is just around the corner. Maybe it’s your first time celebrating Easter in the Netherlands or maybe you’ve been here for a while but haven’t had the chance to take part in the local traditions yet. In any case, this article explains everything you need to know about celebrating the holiday, the Dutch way!
When will Easter take place in the Netherlands?
In 2023, the Easter weekend starts on April 7 (Good Friday) and ends on April 10 (Easter Monday).
As usual, the Dutch government has declared Good Friday to be a normal working day for everyone, but don’t despair! Easter Monday is a public holiday in the Netherlands, so you can get that nice, long weekend to relax after all.
Common Dutch Easter traditions
The Netherlands celebrates Easter in a similar way to other countries that also observe the holiday. Here are a few of the festive traditions that the Dutch take part in:
A lot of Dutch families will decorate their homes, especially their dining tables, for their Easter celebrations. Common decorations include chocolate eggs, flowers (especially tulips), and bunnies. Some households will feature an Easter egg “tree” with colourful eggs hanging from its branches.
Having an Easter brunch (paasbrunch) or breakfast (paasontbijt) is typical for Dutch families. The brunch or breakfast normally takes place on Easter Sunday, but some families may do it in the evening or on Easter Monday.
- Quail eggs or normal boiled eggs
- Cinnamon-flavoured bread with raisins (paasbrood) and croissants
- Scones with eggs
- Fresh fruit
- Freshly-squeezed juice
- Coffee or tea
The Easter meal is often made and served by the family at home. However, if you’re not feeling up for spending a lot of time preparing food, you can also go out to a restaurant for Easter. Make sure to find a place that will prepare Easter dishes. Bonus points if you can find a place that does high tea (this isn't traditional, it's just gezellig).
Easter egg hunt
On Sunday morning, Dutch people take part in Easter egg hunts. This is an activity that is mainly geared towards kids but adults are usually also part of the setting up process. Over the Easter weekend, Dutch kids will paint the hard-boiled eggs that are used in the egg hunt.
In many countries, it's the Easter Bunny who hides the eggs around the house or garden, but in the Netherlands, it's the Easter Hare (paashaas) who hides all the eggs. The reason for this is probably because paashaas is way more fun to say than paaskonijn ("Easter rabbit")!
Going outside to do springtime activities is also popular in the Netherlands over Easter. People visit flea markets or other street markets, parks, or tulip fields (since it’s the season). It might also be a good idea to visit a petting zoo, as some of them host paasbrunch and other Easter-themed events - this is an especially great option if you have children.
If you’re a music lover and enjoy discovering new artists, there is also an annual festival called Paaspop which takes place in Schijndel, Noord-Brabant. In 2023, the festival is taking place from April 7 to 9, and is a great way to get to know more about Dutch music and culture.
Regional Easter traditions
Some areas of the Netherlands, especially in the east, still have traditional Easter celebrations. These activities go way back, with one of them even pre-dating Christianity!
Some of these old-school activities include Easter bonfires (paasvuren). For this ritual, wood is collected and burned in a large pile. These fires normally take place at night and attract locals and visitors alike, who come together to watch the fire burn.
The ritual pre-dates Christianity and possibly comes from the Old Saxon religion, German mythology, or from other Indo-European practices. While it is not originally Christian, the ritual was given a Christian interpretation at a later time and came to be considered the light of Easter; a symbol of the resurrection of the son of God.
The ritual usually takes place on Easter Sunday or Monday, but in some parts of Europe, it takes place on the Saturday following Good Friday.
Easter stake haul
The Easter stake haul (paasstaakhalen) is another classic Dutch tradition. Denekamp, Twente in Overijssel is well-known for taking part in this Easter ritual. The Easter stake haul takes place on Easter Sunday and involves hundreds of people joining hands and singing an Easter song together. The song celebrates the resurrection of Christ.
In Denekamp, residents join together and walk from their village to a nearby fortress. Once there, they cut off all the branches of a tree except for the top one. They then drag the bare trunk to an "Easter hill", where the trunk is erected with a tar barrel on top. A person then pretends to be "Judas" and sells the pole to the public. Finally, the public arrives in the evening and the Easter stake is set on fire.
Vlöggeln (Twente dialect) is an Easter tradition that is celebrated every year in Ootmarsum, Twente. It takes place on Easter Sunday and is repeated again on Easter Monday. This Roman-Catholic festivity includes walking in a line around the Catholic Church and through a few houses and cafés, with the tour ending at the market square. During this walk, the participants hold hands and sing two Easter songs, alternating between them.
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This traditional walk is led by eight Catholic men from Ootmarsum, known as de Poaskearls ("The Easter Boys"). These men are around 20 years old and not married. They wear matching beige trench coats and brown hats as they walk. On top of being an Easter tradition, Vlöggeln is an initiation ceremony for de Poaskearls, who are leaving childhood and entering adulthood.
The eldest man of de Poaskearls is given the name "Judas" and smokes a cigar, lit by his mate, Iscariot, as the final part of an aptitude test. The walk then ends at the town's market square where the children are lifted and people shout, Hoera! three times.
Palm Easter stick
The Palm Easter stick (palmpasenstok) is made up of two sticks joined in the shape of a cross. This Easter stick is mainly made in churches and in Catholic and Christian primary schools. Children then give the sticks to elderly or sick residents in the community.
The cross symbolises the cross on which Jesus died, while the branches symbolise the entry into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday). Although it is a traditional Roman Catholic ritual, the symbolism of the cross is also used in the 21st century in Protestant and Evangelical churches.
Celebrate Easter like a Dutch local
Whether you’re decking out your home with bunny decorations, preparing a delectable meal, or going out to celebrate, Easter is a time for family and friends to spend time together and enjoy each other’s company. Enjoy!