- When Dutch kids graduate from school, you can see backpacks hanging from flagpoles in celebration.
- The Dutch also celebrate the parents for the important milestone of a kid’s birthday.
- Celebrating your 12.5th wedding anniversary is very important.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
My American family lived in the Netherlands for three years, and our Dutch neighbors showed us touching ways to commemorate milestones that we’ve continued even after repatriating to the United States.
The first time I passed a window with pink streamers and a giant decal spelling “Lotte,” I didn’t think much of it. When my Dutch landlord shook my hand to congratulate me on my son’s ninth birthday, I thought he was just being polite. I soon learned that these are full-blown traditions across the Netherlands. And when backpacks start flying from flagpoles in every neighborhood in Holland, well, there’s no mistaking how deep these customs go.
By stepping outside our own culture, my family has grown to look at milestones differently (like our 12.5th wedding anniversary), and our celebrations are even more meaningful because of it.
Announcing when a baby is born with yard decorations
When a baby is born in the Netherlands, Dutch families decorate their front windows or put up a yard sign to broadcast the little one’s arrival. The sign typically announces the infant’s name alongside streamers, pennants, or even a decorative stork.
If you’re feeling fancy, custom window decals with the baby’s name and birthdate are also popular.
Celebrating parents on a child’s birthday
On birthdays, you don’t just praise the birthday boy or girl, you congratulate the honoree’s parents. And I’m not just talking about newborns – you applaud the parents every single year.
As any parent knows, it’s a job that never ends. So it doesn’t matter if your child is turning 7 or 17 – expect a hearty “Congrats!” and three kisses or a handshake from your Dutch friends and neighbors.
Bringing your own birthday cake
If you want to celebrate your special day with coworkers, in the Netherlands, the onus is on you: You bring in the cake or tart to share at the office. If you’re not up for celebrating your birthday, that’s your call.
Even though you have to pay for it yourself, you’re guaranteed to get your favorite birthday treat, since you’re the one picking it out.
Flying a backpack on a flagpole to celebrate a student’s graduation
When there’s a new graduate in a Dutch household, they announce the milestone by flying the student’s backpack – and sometimes even final exam papers – up the flagpole of their home.
It’s a satisfying way to show off all that hard work and look back on (or up to) your child’s success and achievements.
It’s beautiful in late May to see all the backpacks flying in neighborhoods in Holland, papers flapping in the wind, alongside red-white-and-blue flags. Talk about a unique way to show your family’s pride in the new grad.
Celebrating 12.5th wedding anniversaries
The Dutch celebrate 12.5 years of marriage. When I first heard this, I thought it might be a joke – until I spotted “12.5” banners, napkins, and other supplies at party stores along with custom cake designs at our local bakeries calling out this odd anniversary.
The Dutch laud this milestone because 12.5 is halfway to 25 and a quarter of the way to 50 years of matrimony.
Now that we’ve returned to the United States, I still love congratulating parents on their children’s birthdays. You also can bet my husband and I got a cake for our 12.5th anniversary. When our kids earn their diplomas, you know where you’ll find their backpacks, though we’ll be flying a different red-white-and-blue flag alongside them.