Five rules for dealing with Dutch birthdays

Dutch birthdays can be a complete shock to the uninitiated, but there are few simple rules on how to deal with them.

1.If invited to a Dutch birthday party, do not expect wild dancing until dawn. It usually means sitting in a big circle of chairs, drinking coffee and eating a piece of cake. The wine might come out later. As guests arrive, they shake hands with everyone sitting down. If there is a shortage of chairs, the circle will be expanded. On no account should you attempt to form smaller groups.

2. If it is your birthday at work, you are expected to take in cake for your entire department. Your colleagues will not give you presents. They will all shake your hand or kiss you and have a polite chat. If you are not working, you will be expected to have the neighbours and your partner’s family round for coffee and cake. Don’t forget to put the chairs in a nice ring.

3. If it is your partner or child’s birthday, you must congratulate everyone else in the family. This might sound odd. It goes like this. It is your husband’s birthday. You invite his mother for coffee and cake. She says to you “Congratulations on Fred’s birthday”, you say to her: “Congratulations on your son’s birthday”. You congratulate Fred’s sister on her brother’s birthday and so on. Seriously. You do.

4. If it is your child’s birthday and they are at a Dutch primary school, you will be expected to supply a ‘traktatie’ – an edible gift for every child in the class. Some schools have strict ‘no sugar’ rules which means you have to come up with something clever with cucumber and cheese. Some schools also expect you to provide a piece of cake for all the teachers. Luckily this all stops from the age of 12, when your children will start demanding parties with smuggled beer and Bacardi breezers.

5.  If you are turning 50, beware of Abraham. The name of the Biblical patriarch Abraham, who reached the ripe old age of 175, is applied to men in the Netherlands when they reach the age of 50. Women are known as Sarah who, according to the Bible, lived until she was 127. Turn 50 at work, and you may find the company lift plastered with posters announcing that ‘Fred is Abraham’. Fiftieth birthday celebrations in the Netherlands often include songs pointing out the birthday boy or girl is old, grey and past it.

Fortunately, the more of us foreigners move in, the more the traditional Dutch birthday is being eroded.


125 thoughts on “Five rules for dealing with Dutch birthdays

  1. Rika

    Yep true, except I’m in my twenties and we (me and my friends) dance wildly until dawn on our birthdays oh yes. I’m in my twenties means also I’ve got a long way to go until I reach 50 so I don’t know shit about point 5 or 2… Point 3 and 4 absolutely true, but don’t forget we Dutch are expected to do such things the same as you are expected to do these, I mean by that we find it often weird to but that’s what our parents told us to do and other older people when we were young, we expect it of eachother but do we agree?

  2. Paul Adr.

    I love these posts, agree on most parts.
    Weird habbits people have, and as a native I should find them normal, still never do.

  3. Nerm

    “Fortunately, the more of us foreigners move in, the more the traditional Dutch birthday is being eroded.” Yeah how fortunate, a bunch of foreigners weakening a country’s tradition.

    1. Christina

      Actually we bring in more colour, viberance and fun! For an example, I was shocked when I went to a birthday party and there was no food only cake and snacks. South Asians always make sure there is plenty to eat a our parties, that is why Dutch people never aviod those parties and make sure they go to one. I find they are the ones that eat the most too!

      Frankly speaking Dutch traditions I would associate it with being cheap!

      1. Marijke

        Yes Christina we were so pleased you came here with your vibrant and fun personality. We go to parties because we’re cheap. And we certainly wouldn’t want to miss you’re big colourfull personality in this country. The south asians bring colour….. You know another dutch costum….it’s called sarcasm. It’s mostly the foreign who think they bring all good things to the Netherlands…. The dutch think otherwise we love our costems and traditions and want to keep them in tact.

      2. Anara

        Reply to Marijke… u know the word progress and globalisation?worlds and countries are merging… Sticking to old outdated traditions is inadequate and old…change will hit people like u in netherland very hard…and ull realise u need to do smth or change smth in order to survive…like its safer to be polite and dont be cheap…

      3. Martijn

        @ Anara @ Christina: why so resentful? Please cheer up for your own sakes and for that of others. This is not colourful and vibrant. And if it is not resentment that I read, then why be such bigots about the customs of others, that you seemingly cannot appreciate (which is more than OK, of course)? Is that the way to live happily in a globalized world? I can hardly imagine. 🙂

  4. Timon

    Most of the things from the article are correct, but there are differences from family to family. For example my family always plans the celebration of a birthday on a Sunday. Usually starting around 10:00, then with lunch (with assorted breads, soup and salads, our family tradition) and for the guests that stay till evening a light dinner.

    My wifes familiy just celebrates during the day, preferably the day of the actual birthday. Usually the guests stay shorter and there is only cake.


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