Here’s why you’ll see backpacks hanging on Dutch flagpoles from today

Starting today, tens of thousands of families are due to fasten backpacks to the flagpoles outside their homes in celebration of their children’s graduation. But um, why exactly? 

Every international has come to notice the way suburban neighbourhoods become a sea of backpacks in the month of June. As time passes, you begin to take it for granted. But let’s take a look at why this started. 

Aside from the usual graduation drinking and parties, this strange custom is considered an indispensable “part of [Dutch] culture”, reports AD.nl. But as for the origin story, it seemingly materialised out of thin air. 

Origins

The custom came about more recently than you might think — after World War II, according to historian Piet de Boer. Newspaper articles by Het Parool about bags-on-flags date back to the 60s, when one high school graduate started a revolution. 

That’s right, one 17-year-old on the Amstelkade in Amsterdam, who was probably overcome with joy after passing exams, randomly took it upon themselves to toss their school bag up on the flagpole. 

This trend-setter kicked off a domino effect of inspiration; “other decorations”, including garlands or notebooks tied to the flagpoles, began to appear in the street over time. 

READ MORE | Dutch Quirk #88: Hang their school backpack on their house flagpole after graduating

“Flying the flag” is a symbol of national and personal triumph, honour, and celebration. The school backpack is also symbolic of the education that is now behind them, as it “stands for knowledge and adventure.”  

The ridiculously heavy bag that weighed you down and made you feel like a turtle all through school can now be hung up victoriously, while you feel light as a feather. 

Criticism of the bag-flag 

Somehow the 1970s, of all decades, is the one that saw pushback on the whole bag-flag idea; quite a few boring party-poopers called out the gesture for being disrespectful to the “royal flag”. 

But, seeing as it was the 70s, these protesters were quickly told to chill, and ultimately ignored. 

Since the 1990s this custom has been widely accepted as completely fine — not to mention adorable. 

READ MORE | 15 weirdly cute things Dutch people do

All in all, it’s a wholesome DIY Dutch tradition, and a far cry from what AD.nl calls “pompous” American graduation ceremonies — which tend to require a marching band, cap and gown, class ring, and endless photoshoots. *Cough* 

How do you feel about school bags on flags? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Feature Image:Depositphotos
Ellen Ranebo
Ellen Ranebo
As someone half Swedish and half Irish who has lived in the Netherlands, the UK, and attended an American School, Ellen is a cocktail of various nationalities. Having had her fair share of bike accidents, near-death experiences involving canals, and miscommunications while living here (Swedish and Dutch have deceptively similar words with very different meanings), she hopes to have (and document) plenty more in future.

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