Flags in the Netherlands: everything you need to know

It’s rare to see any real patriotism in the Netherlands, except when the ‘Orange Fever‘ hits during football championships, but we can confirm the Dutch do put some thought into their flags. Here’s everything you need to know about the colours, the lack of orange, and anything else flag-related in the Netherlands!

The official, internationally recognised Dutch flag is red, white, and blue. However, you may have seen several other variants and uses. What are they, and how did they get here?

Dutch flags: the orange, white, and blue

You may have seen the Dutch flag with an orange stripe instead of a red one. Let’s be clear: that is not entirely without controversy.

This particular flag was first waved by the Buccaneer Rebels known as the Geuzen (don’t bother trying to pronounce it!) who helped liberate the Netherlands from Spanish rule in the 16th century with a little help from a man named William of Orange. So far so good, right? Well, wrong — someone had to ruin it.

In the 1930s, a small party called the NSB (National Socialist Movement) started to rise in the Netherlands. The NSB announced in the early 30’s that the “Orange, Blanche, Blue” was the only real Dutch flag and started displaying it at many of their events.

In an act of defiance the Dutch Royal House, by name of Queen Wilhelmina, put a law into effect which asserted that the Red, White, and Blue was the only real Dutch flag — and always would be.

Prinsenvlag
An orange, white and blue flag on a patriots house. Image: Bobby Solomons/Supplied

The NSB, however, had some very powerful friends in a neighbouring country: the Nazis. And when Holland was trampled and completely tarnished for resisting in 1940, the NSB managed to convince the Nazi party that they should be at the helm of the country (under the ever-watchful eyes of the German occupation force.)

Interestingly, the Nazis decided not to succumb to the NSB’s fiery wish of an orange stripe, but kept the red stripe, though they heavily restricted any real use of the Dutch flag: The Third Reich had plans to permanently absorb the Netherlands into its homelands. Something that never worked and caused much friction and suffering during the years of occupation.

As a result, the orange stripe on the flag is often still used by the rare few racist groups that are active in the Netherlands, and who often honour the NSB and those of the German Occupation Force that lost their lives on Dutch soil.

So even though the “Orange Flag” has an honourable beginning as part of Dutch resistance and independence, it was tarnished by Nazi sympathisers. Now, many Dutchies are a little spooked when confronted with said flag.

Still, you will often find the flag on old paintings of the brave Geuzen-Buccaneers fighting Spanish warships, or Dutch merchant ships sailing for the East. However, in the case of the latter, the orange was not a result of intention but simply a faded red stripe from bleaching in the tropical sun and salty ocean water.

READ MORE | What was the VOC? The Dutch East India Company explained

Dutch flags: the tiny orange pennant

Despite a controversial history, there’s still a speck of orange today: a little, independent orange pennant that is sometimes hung above the red, white, and blue flag. The pennant is attached to celebrate the House of Orange, the Dutch Royal House who indeed traces back to that same William of Orange and his Buccaneer partners! —Avast ye’ Hollanders and Zeelanders, drown those Spaniards!

READ MORE | Why do the Netherlands love orange? The full explainer

Dutch flag on a tower.
The Dutch flag flies with the orange pennant. Image: Zico-C/Wikimedia Commons/CC.3.0

Dutch flags: half-mast

If the flag is half-mast, be aware that there is some sort of national (or at least regional) mourning and that official permission has been given for public display. You will mostly see this on May 4, during the Remembrance of the Dead (WWII), or after national tragedies such as the MH-17 downing over Ukraine.

Of course, any deaths in the Royal Family or exceptionally important political figures (still in function) will also usually bring the half-mast flag with it. So, be aware, the Dutch may not be in their happiest mood that day — it’s there for a reason!

Dutch flags: celebrating the good times

Last, but not least, the Dutch also use their flags for “once in a lifetime achievements.” Graduated high school? Hang the flag high with your backpack attached to it! Got a new baby? Hang the flag to show a new Dutch citizen has just been born! Did you eat too many fries at your favourite greasy, Amsterdam snack store while drunk and now you have to throw up? …Don’t, just don’t.

Dutch flags: inspiring others?

Oh, and yes — the flag of New York City is blue, white, and orange in reference to its Dutch history. The flag of tiny Luxembourg is red, white, and light-blue because it used to be part of the Netherlands before Holland, Belgium, and Luxembourg separated. Yes, for real, the Netherlands actually used to be a medium-sized European country. Good times…

Want more? Read up on the gloriously dark Amsterdam flag, or check out the difference between the Netherlands and Holland! Got any questions? Leave them in the comments below!

Feature Image: Ben_Kerckx/Pixabay

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in November 2017, and was fully updated in June 2021 for your reading pleasure. 

Bobby Salomons
Bobby Salomons is an Amsterdam-based published author and movie-blogger holding up too many balls to juggle at once. Suffering from Tortured Artist-syndrome he is left with no choice or hope until eventually breaking through.

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