We all need symbols in life. Whether animals we venerate, monuments we admire, or real or fictive characters we worship. Other symbols we also need in life are those created around National Days. All around the world, a National Day is held on a designated date and various celebrations mark the nationhood of a nation or of a non-sovereign country. This nationhood can be symbolized by the date of independence, of becoming a republic, or a significant date for a patron saint (Ireland) or the birthday, accession to power or removal from it of a local ruler. This is the case for Belgium where the National Day on July 21 commemorates the event on July 21, 1831 when Leopold of Saxe-Cobourg swore allegiance to the new Belgian constitution, and became Belgium’s first monarch. As a whole, most national days can be categorized in two large blocks: newer countries that commemorate their independence day (India, Indonesia, USA, Ukraine, etc. – and in general just about all former colonies in Latin America, Africa, and Asia). And older countries that celebrate events with a special significance: a revolution (France’s Bastille Day), a reunification (Germany), or a state foundation (China).
Finally, the particular case of kingdoms with a mobile date that is often the regent’s birthday or day of accession to the throne. Thailand, Monaco and Oman are example countries, and of course the Netherlands, too, where Queen’s Day on April 30 recently turned into King’s Day on April 27 (provided it’s not a Sunday, otherwise celebrations take place on the 26th in order not to offend the Protestant minority). Still following me? This is the day of the Orange madness with activities such as the Free Market (on that day only people are allowed to sell their junk on the street without a permit), the King’s Night the evening before, the King’s Games and the King’s Breakfast for school children which take place days before. Although this may all seem like medieval nostalgia, we’re talking modern times! But it’s all about creating a sense of belonging and community. Indeed, for one day, everybody in Holland is the same: orange, equal and crazy. A feeling many Belgians would like to share as well, the monarchy as a symbol of the unity of the country that has shrunk in the past decades. Many people in Flanders prefer the Flemish Community Day on July 11 and in Wallonia many also celebrate 14 juillet! But let’s bet that once the Euro 2016 has started and provided the Red Devils will perform as expected, some (renewed) unity will appear in Belgium, with the help of some friends… those northern football fans who don’t have much else to cheer up for… the poor (orange) devils…
Vincent Merk – v.merk (at) tue (dot) nl,
trainer intercultural communication at University of Technology, Eindhoven