Six hearty facts about the Netherlands

Six hearty facts about the Netherlands

One might think that there is little romance in the Netherlands, but the local cultural history sure says otherwise! After all, it is the country of flowers, and it has brought forth many wonderful artists and poets.

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, let’s have a look at six hearty facts about love, flowers and romance in Dutch culture.

Oldest Dutch love song

Did you know that one of the oldest known sentences in Western Old Dutch is a love song?

Hebban olla vogala nestas hagunnan hinase hic enda thu wat unbidan we nu.

The sentence roughly translates as "All the birds have begun to build nests, except you and I, what are we waiting for?"

It stems from the 11th century, and was presumably jotted down in a book of Latin texts, by a West Flemish monk who wanted to test his quill.

Valentine’s Day

The first mention of Valentine’s Day, or Valentijnsdag, popped up in the 40s when Dutch florists started calling the 14th "Flowers Day" in order to increase flower sales. People were encouraged to give each other bouquets as tokens of appreciation.

Rather than lovers, people like road rescue workers were presented with the flowers as rewards for their selfless acts.


Flowers, besides being a lovely Valentine's day gift, are an ever present theme in Dutch culture. Noteworthy quotes you may recognise are:

 "Dat verdient een bloemetje" (That deserves a flower), a song and saying.
 "Tulpen uit Amsterdam" (Tulips from Amsterdam), a song by Herman Emmink.
 "Bedankt voor de bloemen" (Thank you for the flowers), a traditional Easter message to the Netherlands from the Pope.


The Dutch are generally rather down-to-earth, and won't get too caught up in the mushiness of romance. However, in the first half of the 19th century Europe was in the throes of Romanticism, an era of giving definition to feelings through art.

Dutch paintings mainly expressed nostalgia by depicting typical Dutch landscapes, such as frozen ponds with people ice skating. The result was often quite passionate and dramatic.

Lovely sayings

The Netherlands has a swell collection of sayings about love. Such as:

 De liefde van een man gaat door de maag.
(A man’s love goes through his stomach.)
If you really want a man to fall for you, give him food.

 Van liefde kan de schoorsteen niet roken.
(The chimney can’t smoke on love.)
Love alone is not enough to keep you alive.

 Koude handen, warm hart.
(Cold hands, warm heart.)
Someone with cold hands has a lot of warmth in his heart.

 Als de armoede binnenkomt vliegt de liefde het venster uit.
(When poverty’s at the door, love flies out the window)
Love disappears when money troubles arrive.

Dutch poetry

We’ll conclude this introduction to Dutch love with part of a short poem by Herman Gorter (1864-1927). He has been called the greatest Dutch love poet of all times.

He, ik wou jij was de lucht
Dat ik je ademen kon
En je zien in het hoge licht
En door je gaan kon

Oh, I wish you were the air
So that I could breathe you
And see you in the high light
And pass through you


For more information about celebrating Valentine's Day in the Netherlands, click here.

Johann Bernhard Klombeck (1815-1881) with Eugène Verboeckhoven (1798-1881) 
"Winter landscape with horse"
Rademakers Collection 

Courtesy of the Noordbrabants Museum
Photograph by Bruno Vermeulen
Romantic painting, photo by Bruno Vermeulen

Alexandra van Kampen


Alexandra van Kampen

English and Japanese theatre and culture are my forte. My mother was raised in England, and my grandmother in Japan. I studied Japanese Language and Culture, and Film and Photographic...

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