Dutch Birthday parties

Strange Dutch Celebrations: Seeing Abraham & Sarah

Irene Van Dam made a comment on a recent post that she’d love to hear my stories about ‘special events’ which Dutch people celebrate – like birthdays, anniversaries and newborns. Great idea – thanks, Irene. Your wish is my command!

I’ve already written about Dutch circle parties, which are weird in themselves! But imagine if it’s a special birthday, say you turn 50… believe me, it’s about to get a whole lot freakier!

50th Birthdays –  Or “Seeing” Abraham / Sarah


So, you’re turning 50. Maybe you want to keep it quiet, have a small meal with the family, something like that. Live in the Netherlands? NO SUCH LUCK!

Your home, garden or place of work (or all three!) will be decorated by your ‘loving’ friends and family with posters, banners, balloons and a life-sized doll of YOU.

Turning 50 in the Netherlands is a BIG BLOODY DEAL!

Apparently it means you are old enough and wise enough to have ‘seen Abraham’ or if you’re a woman – old enough to have ‘seen Sarah’ and your whole street will know about it! The names come from the biblical figures, Abraham and his wife Sarah. According to the bible, Abraham lived until he was 175 and Sarah until she was 127… so if you make it to 50 you’re deemed old enough to have ‘wisdom through experience’.

Traditionally there’s a big party with, you guessed it – cake!

Or, if your friends are jokers, you might get something like this…

Exhibit A:


This was given to my brother-in-law on his 50th birthday party, rather than a traditional cake. Basically it’s just another excuse (much like the Sinterklaas poems) to take the piss out of your friends and loved ones.

His office was decorated like so… (smiley used to cover his handsome face – sorry, bro!)


(The thing on the right is a dummy, looks pretty realistic huh?)

In addition to the hullabaloo at work… he also had a party at home to celebrate. At his birthday BBQ he was given a zimmer frame while we – his friends and family – sang a song to him about how past it and ‘over the hill’ he is. Nice, huh!?

But don’t get mad… get even! Just save up your cruel ideas for when your friends and colleagues turn 50. Or if that’s passed already: 60, 70, 80… they’re all celebrated. Along with 1/2 Abraham or Sarah for when you’re 25!! Then you get half a cake. Crazy Dutchies!

Other ‘kroonjaren’ (translates to crown years) are celebrated as follows:

25 Half Abraham (or Sara / Sarah)
50 Abraham (or Sara / Sarah)
60 Isaac / Isaak (or Elisabeth / Elizabeth / Rebekka / Rebecca)
70 Jacob  (or Anna / Rachel / Lea)
80 Joseph (or Deborah / Asnath)
90 Anthony / Antonius / Efraïm (or Ruth)
100 Methusalem (or Judith)

Names seem to vary (possibly according to region? Help me out here please…) but it’s every 10 years anyway.

Here’s how it’s done the traditional way… the cake my schoonmoeder  was given for her 70th birthday, or ‘Lea’. Accompanied by a big circle party, natuurlijk! 

Lea cake - 70

Looking forward to your birthday now??

Hayley x

Ps – coming up next in this ‘Strange Dutch Celebrations’ mini-series: Having a baby & Celebrating 12.5 years of marriage. If there are any other weird celebrations you can think of that you’d like me to explore… please let me know!

Being Dutch – Part 11: Birthday Parties

To start, I need to put this into context for people who have not attended an English birthday party: You go to the birthday person’s house (laden with booze) or to a bar. You get drunk, dance, tell bad jokes and possibly pass out on the floor somewhere. There might be a few nibbles, namely cheese & pineapple on sticks and possibly a few sausage rolls. But mainly… it’s about the drinking… or as we say “partying”.

Dutch birthday parties on the other hand are a whole other kettle of fish…

A typical scene at a Dutch Birthday Party

A typical scene at a Dutch Birthday Party

1. Arrival and greetings

Upon arrival (probably by bike, if you live in the neighbourhood) you need to greet the birthday boy or girl. You don’t say “Happy Birthday”, but “Gefeliciteerd” (meaning “congratulations”) and give them 3 kisses.  It’s a hard word to pronounce for English speakers, but don’t worry, you’ll get plenty of practice as you’re also expected to congratulate the family of the birthday boy/girl as well! Yep – really! So for example “Gefeliciteerd met je zoon” (“Congratulations with your son”) and don’t forget the 3 kisses! (I should probably do a post about the 3 kiss thing as well, but in short, if you know the person well – 3 kisses, if not – shake their hand.)

You also have to greet everyone at the party individually. For this, a simple “Hallo, ik ben Hayley” (Hello, I’m Hayley) will do – with a handshake for strangers and 3 kisses for people you know. (Obviously don’t tell people you already know your name – or they might think you’re a bit mental.) Dutch people love introducing themselves and children above a certain age (don’t ask me the age – what do I know about kids!?) are also expected to introduce themselves. Personally, I think this is a wonderful thing – encouraging kids to be sociable – but once they’ve shaken your hand they’ll go back to playing their video game or watching TV. Ah well, at least they tried…

2. Coffee and Cake

Greetings done, you’ll now be offered coffee/tea and some cake. Yes, you read that right – CAKE!!! At the beginning of a party – surely that’s a dessert!?

3. The Circle of Doom

Chairs are arranged into a circle formation and people chat politely about the weather and so on for several hours or until the cake is gone.

4. Alcohol – woo hoo! 

Then it’s time for an alcoholic drink. Woo hoo! Party time!!!!!!!!! Right!? Wrong. There’s no music and you continue to sit in a circle and chat with your circle party neighbours.

At this point there might be some food. If it’s winter you’ll most likely get… wait for it… SOUP! How on earth do you eat soup whilst holding a drink and a conversation at the same time?? Commenter Imelda adds: “you know why we serve soup at parties, right? Because its cheap 😉” Her words, not mine.

Kids will probably be served broodje knakworst (a hotdog in a bun) and chippies (a cute word for crisps). In summer there will probably be bread and leverworst (liver sausage) and hopefully some oude kaas (literally: old cheese) Yum!

5. Go home

Then, come 6pm it’s time to leave. Yup, the Dutch have start and finish times for their parties!

Could it have something to do with the fact that it’s the birthday boy or girl’s job to buy all of the food & drinks for the occasion? And while we’re on the subject… Work in an office? You’ll also need to buy cake for the whole workforce. Happy bloody Birthday!

Have you been to a Dutch birthday party? What did you think?

Hayley x