The Dutch and the Color Orange

There's history behind the Netherlands' orange obsession

The Dutch and the Color Orange
••• Orange is the shade of Dutch sports and national events. © Martin Abegglen/Flickr (CC BY-SA)

The colors of the Dutch flag are red, white and blue -- there's no orange at all. But around the world, the Netherlands are closely identified with orange, of all colors. They wear it on days of national pride, and their sports teams' uniforms are almost all a bright orange hue.

It may seem odd, but there's some interesting history behind the affection Netherlanders have for this particular color. 

But first, it's worth exploring why, if the Dutch are so obsessed with orange, their flag is a tricolor red, white and blue? The Netherlands has the oldest tricolor flag (the French and German flags are a few other examples), which the country adopted in 1572 during its War of Independence. The colors came from the Prince of Nassau's coat of arms.

And according to some historians, the middle stripe (or fess) of the Dutch flag was originally orange, but legend has it that the orange dye was too unstable. Since the stripes would turn red a short time after a flag was made, the story goes, red became the stripe's official color.

Despite its failure to become a part of the Dutch flag, orange remains a huge part of Dutch culture. The orange craze can be traced back to the very roots of the Netherlands: Orange is the color of the Dutch royal family.

The lineage of the current dynasty -- the House of Orange-Nassau -- dates back to Willem van Oranje (William of Orange).

This is the same Willem who lends his name to the Dutch national anthem, the Wilhelmus.

Willem van Oranje (William of Orange)

Willem was the leader of the Dutch revolution against the Spanish Habsburgs, a movement which led to Dutch independence in 1581. Born in the House of Nassau, Willem became Prince of Orange in 1544 when his cousin Rene of Chalon, who was the Prince of Orange at the time, named Willem his heir.

So Willem was the first branch of the family tree of the House of Orange-Nassau.

Perhaps the biggest display of orange national pride occurs on Koningsdag (King's Day), the April 27 holiday commemorating the birthday of the country's king. Until 2014, the celebration was known as Queen's Day, in honor of the previous monarch. You'll be hard-pressed to find a Dutch person who's not sporting the color on this day. And on any royal birthday, the Dutch tricolor flag is flown with orange banners attached. 

Dutch Sports Fans and Oranjegekte

But while the color orange has royal roots in the Netherlands, today it symbolizes a broader pride in the country and in being Dutch. Colloquially known either as Oranjegekte (Orange craze) or Oranjekoorts (Orange fever), the obsession with the color spilled over into Dutch sporting events in the later 20th century.

Dutch fans have worn orange to support their teams during World Cup soccer (football) tournaments since about 1934. Orange t-shirts, hats and scarves are not the only manifestations of this orange fever; some ardent Dutch fans paint their cars, houses, shops and streets orange. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines went so far as to paint one of its Boeing 777 airplanes orange, another show of Dutch national pride.

 

So if you're planning to visit Amsterdam or anywhere else in the Netherlands, you might want to pack an orange item of clothing (or two). It may not be the most flattering color choice, but when you're in the Netherlands, wearing orange will help make you look like a local.