Fishery Day Observance in Spakenburg

Spakenburg wooden boats and fish catch ready for smoking

Don’t we oftentimes look far beyond the horizon for many exciting things to see and miss what is right under our noses?

This would seem the case with me for having been to other places to witness interesting cultural phenomena and overlooked what was simply amazing in a place that is even just cycling distance from home.

On this post, let me take you to Spakenburg, a fishing village which to this day still clings to age-old traditions and way of life. Many of its older generation of women for instance, still go about their daily lives wearing traditional costumes. Sundays are still strictly observed as day of obligation to the Lord so apart from going to church three times, all establishments are closed for business and typical Sunday activities like football games are forbidden.

Considering that we’ve lived here in Amersfoort for almost seven years, I was never aware of the Fishery Day observance in nearby Spakenburg. Thanks to a tip from our friend Tammy, we were finally able to witness this wonderful spectacle last 1st of September (Fishery Day is every first Saturday of September so we learned).  Wooden fishing boats had the sails on their masts raised and the local men, women and children were dressed in traditional costumes. (Normally only the older Spakenburg women wear the traditional costume on daily basis.) Every aspect of the traditional way of life here was out in the open and it was amazing to see how this village is able to keep the traditions alive and well to this very day.

Raised sails on the wooden masts

The mayor and the women of Spakenburg


Thick woolen socks that go well with the wooden clogs “klompen”

The dry dock at the harbor

Spakenburg women

Francesca and me with the Spakenburg ladies

Spakenburg children

Spakenburg girl

Fish auction house

Father and daughter with smoked mackerel bought at the auction

Smoking of fish is a traditional way of preserving them in the old days but is still very much in practice to this day

My little girl playing with the fish net

Spankenburg ladies and Spakenburg textiles

The traditional way of cleaning raw herring – head is removed as well as the bones then eaten with chopped onions and pickles

Spakenburg ladies


The Dutch winter fun begins

Just when I thought that from autumn we’ve skipped a season and progressed to spring especially as crocuses are already starting to peek out of the ground and bloom, winter suddenly puts in a very much delayed appearance courtesy of high pressures from Russia and the Atlantic that eventually found their usual winter rythmn. My mindset is already in a spring mode and now I need to shift back to winter which means thick and warm clothing lest I freeze. Brrrrrrrrrt!

There’s a lot of excitement sweeping the country with this weather development. Few more days of sustained sub-zero temperature will mean that outdoor ice skating will be the main event this coming weekend. In some areas up north, some shallow lakes are already covered with ice that is strong enough for skaters to skate on. In our place, the ice cover is still thin so we still need a bit more time. My daughter can hardly wait…

Our family on ice

The other times that there was ice, she was still too young for skating. Now at four, she is just at that perfect age to start learning this very Dutch preoccupation. I say very Dutch because ice skating has been a Dutch-dominated Winter Olympics sport especially the long distance (10-kilometer) category. This is not a surprise because this kind of skating is very much imbued in the Dutch tradition. Up north in Friesland in times of severe winter when there is ice, they have this special event called “Elfstedentoch” or Eleven Cities’ Race which involves skating through frozen canals, rivers and lakes between eleven historic Friesian cities covering a distance of almost 200 kms which should be completed before midnight. It is no easy feat but one that is eagerly awaited and has a long waiting list for would be participants as they have to be a member of the Association of the Eleven Friesian Cities. Some of the participants have even been registered at birth by their parents to ensure a place because the number of participants is capped at 15,000 of amateur skaters. Why is this the case? Well, we don’t get ice that can sustain this event that often. Even though there had been occasions of sub-zero temperatures in the last few winters, oftentimes they were not long enough to really ensure that the ice in the almost 200 kms. skating route would be thick enough (minimum of 15 centimeters along the entire route) and safe enough for the huge contingent of skaters. The last time that this race took place was in 1997 and before that was in 1985 or over 20 years earlier.

Another way of enjoying the ice

This canal is part of the almost 200 km. route for the Elfstedentoch

Francesca getting her skating lesson from her father

Over a year ago we were in Harlingen (Friesland) after Christmas visiting family and there was ice. Francesca got her first ice skating lesson. Me, on the other hand, didn’t skate but just walked over the ice. I tried ice skating before in my earlier days here in Holland and decided it was not for me. I can endure a few bruises and blue spots but the fear of broken bones was just too much. I’m just too old to learn the tricks of this sport and just prefer watching those around me glide through the ice with ease.

Every single Dutchman is out to enjoy ice skating when there is ice

I love the frenzied atmosphere when there is ice. It is akin to celebrating a national skating fiesta where everyone is out to just enjoy this fun for free. The Dutch, known for being wise with their money, welcomes anything that will not cost a cent and outdoor nature skating is one of them. Some very enterprising ones even get to earn extra bucks putting up stalls selling hot coffee or hot chocolate with heaping of whipped cream, such very much welcomed comfort amidst the chilly weather.

In our neighborhood are also shallow canals which froze two years ago. We were there as well though the little girl was still too small to skate so she stayed seated on her sled being pulled either by me or her father. She enjoyed watching the other kids showing off their skating skills and told us that when she’s older and bigger, she’ll do the same too.

Skating lesson from her papa starts this way

Skating aside ftom being a national passion is also an amazing bonding moments for families. Parents and their kids are just at their happiest on these times. It is amazing to see small children learning their ways into the ice from their patient parents who are dedicated to ensuring that this national passion lives on.

A chair is a beginner's essential

Most if not all towns and villages also have their ice skating associations. If skating is held in canals or lakes, they also have their ice masters or experts who check the quality of the ice and declare when is it safe to skate on the natural ice. Other villages are even more creative, creating temporary ice skating rinks by flooding a contained area like fields with a thin layer of water which then freeze a lot faster than the canals.

Bets are being made now (probability currently at 25%) whether we will have the Elfstedentoch this year as the sub-zero temperature is expected to continue until next week. If that happens, expect Holland to be featured on world news.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 6,623 other followers