Ascension Day in the Netherlands: Tradition & Significance

Sofia Van Dirk

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If you’re a foreigner living in or visiting the Netherlands, you might have come across “Ascension Day” on your calendar and wondered about its significance. Ascension Day, known as “Hemelvaartsdag” in Dutch, is a cherished holiday with deep historical and religious roots. While the essence of the holiday remains grounded in Christian theology, the way the Dutch observe it offers a fascinating glimpse into the melding of tradition, culture, and modernity.

This article seeks to respectfully and informatively guide you through the significance of Ascension Day in the Netherlands, ensuring that you feel more connected and informed about the local customs and practices surrounding this special day.

Key Takeaways:

  • Ascension Day, or “Hemelvaartsdag,” commemorates Jesus Christ’s ascension into heaven and holds deep religious significance.
  • The Dutch celebrate this day with a blend of solemn religious observances and vibrant cultural traditions.
  • “Dauwtrappen,” an early morning walk or bike ride, is a cherished Dutch tradition related to Ascension Day.
  • As a public holiday in the Netherlands, many institutions remain closed, affecting transportation and businesses.
  • For foreigners, respecting and understanding local customs during Ascension Day enhances the cultural experience.

Historical and Religious Significance

Venturing into the heart of Ascension Day takes us back to ancient Christian beliefs. The day commemorates an event that holds a fundamental place in Christian theology—the ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven.

According to Christian teachings, after Jesus’ resurrection, he spent forty days on Earth, appearing to his disciples and followers, imparting wisdom, and performing miracles. These appearances were crucial, solidifying the belief in his resurrection among his followers and laying down foundational teachings that would later shape Christian doctrine. At the end of these forty days, it is believed that Jesus ascended to heaven in the presence of several witnesses, symbolizing his triumph over death and his elevation to the right hand of God.

The New Testament of the Bible, especially the Book of Acts, provides a detailed account of this event. The ascension signifies not only the physical departure of Jesus from Earth but also his continued spiritual presence among believers. It’s a reminder of the promise that he would send the Holy Spirit to guide and comfort his followers, which is celebrated shortly after on Pentecost.

In the broader context of Christianity, Ascension Day is seen as a culmination of Jesus’ earthly mission and a precursor to his second coming. It underlines the doctrines of redemption, hope, and eternal life, with believers looking forward to their own eventual union with God in heaven.

For centuries, Christian communities worldwide have honored this day with various ceremonies and traditions, marking it as a moment of reflection, gratitude, and hope. The Netherlands, with its rich Christian heritage, observes Ascension Day with its unique blend of solemnity and celebration, making it a significant event in the Dutch religious calendar.

Ascension Day in the Netherlands

The Netherlands, known for its vibrant tapestry of culture, history, and tradition, brings its own unique flair to the observance of Ascension Day, or “Hemelvaartsdag” as the Dutch affectionately call it.

A Public Holiday

First and foremost, Ascension Day is a recognized public holiday in the Netherlands. This means that schools, most businesses, and public institutions usually remain closed on this day, allowing families and individuals to observe the day in the manner they deem fit. It offers a mid-week pause for many, leading to an extended weekend, especially if it falls close to the weekend.

Local Customs and Traditions

While the religious essence remains intact, the Dutch have interwoven local customs and traditions into the day’s observance. Many Dutch people attend church services on Ascension Day. These services often involve reading biblical passages related to Jesus’ ascension, hymns that resonate with the theme of the day, and reflections on the significance of the event in the context of contemporary life. For the devout, it’s a day of reverence, contemplation, and connection with the divine.


Beyond the church doors, the Dutch countryside becomes a haven of activity. “Dauwtrappen” is a delightful Dutch tradition related to Ascension Day. Literally translating to “dew-treading,” many people wake up at dawn and go for a walk or bike ride, enjoying the fresh morning dew under their feet or tires. The origin of this tradition is somewhat unclear, but it has become a cherished ritual for many, blending nature’s beauty with the day’s spiritual significance.

Moreover, several local events and festivals, often non-religious in nature, are organized around Ascension Day. These might range from music festivals to local fairs, providing both locals and foreigners with an opportunity to experience the Dutch celebratory spirit.

Cultural Traditions and Observances

Ascension Day in the Netherlands

The rich tapestry of Dutch culture is vividly on display during Ascension Day, where age-old traditions merge seamlessly with modern observances. While the religious underpinning of the day is evident, many cultural practices associated with “Hemelvaartsdag” make it a day to remember, even for those not spiritually inclined.

Church Services

Central to the day’s observance, many churches across the Netherlands host special services. The interiors of these churches often feature symbolic decorations related to the ascension, and choirs may present hymns and songs that encapsulate the day’s sentiment. Attending these services provides a beautiful insight into the solemnity and respect with which the Dutch observe Ascension Day.


As mentioned, “dauwtrappen” or “dew-treading” is a cherished tradition. Beyond its literal practice of walking or cycling early in the morning, it’s also a celebration of nature. Many families and groups of friends make it an annual ritual, taking advantage of the holiday to explore the scenic beauty of the Netherlands.

Local Events

The spirit of community is alive and well on Ascension Day. Various towns and municipalities might organize local events such as markets, fairs, or even small concerts. These events often have a festive atmosphere and serve as a meeting point for locals and visitors alike.

Traditional Foods

While Ascension Day doesn’t have a specific culinary tradition associated with it like other Dutch holidays, it’s not uncommon for families to enjoy a special meal or treat. Given its spring timing, fresh seasonal produce, from asparagus to strawberries, often finds its way to the dining table. Some might even prepare special bread or pastries for the occasion.

Outdoor Activities

With the day often providing a hint of the upcoming summer warmth, many Dutch people opt for outdoor activities. Picnics, family outings, or even boat rides in the numerous canals and lakes become popular choices, adding a recreational touch to the day’s observance.

Related: Traditional Dutch Food: A Culinary Journey Through The Netherlands

Practical Information for Foreigners

As Ascension Day unfolds in the Netherlands, it’s essential for foreigners to be equipped with practical knowledge to navigate the day smoothly. Whether you’re a tourist visiting for a short period or an expatriate residing longer-term, understanding certain practicalities can enhance your experience and help you plan accordingly.

Public ClosuresExpect government offices, banks, and many businesses to be closed; check tourist attractions’ timings.
TransportationPublic transport may run on a holiday schedule; areas hosting events could be busier.
Events and ActivitiesLook for local events or festivals; consider “dauwtrappen” early morning walks.
Dining and RestaurantsSome restaurants may remain closed; consider booking in advance if dining out.
Respect and EtiquetteDress modestly for religious events; show understanding for local customs and traditions.

Public Closures

  • Ascension Day is a public holiday, so expect government offices, banks, post offices, and many businesses to be closed.
  • While major supermarkets might open for limited hours, smaller stores and independent businesses may remain closed entirely.
  • Tourist attractions could have varied timings. It’s advisable to check ahead if you plan to visit museums, historical sites, or other places of interest.


  • Public transport, such as buses, trams, and trains, might run on a reduced or holiday schedule. Always check the timetables in advance.
  • If you’re considering renting or using a car, be aware that there might be reduced traffic, making it an opportune time for a drive. However, some areas, especially those hosting events or festivals, could be busier.

Events and Activities

  • Keep an eye out for local events or festivals happening around Ascension Day. These can be an excellent opportunity to immerse yourself in Dutch culture.
  • If participating in “dauwtrappen,” remember that the early morning can still be chilly. Dress appropriately and consider wearing comfortable shoes.

Dining and Restaurants

  • Some restaurants might remain closed, while others, especially in tourist-centric areas, might operate as usual or even offer special menus for the day.
  • Given the public holiday status, it’s always a good idea to book in advance if you’re considering dining out.

Respect and Etiquette

  • If you’re attending a church service or any religious event, dress modestly and maintain a respectful demeanor.
  • While the day has a festive air, remember its religious significance. It’s appreciated when foreigners show understanding and respect for local customs and traditions.

Related: Dutch Holidays 2024: A Guide for Foreigners

Respecting Local Traditions

For foreigners in the Netherlands, a few thoughtful considerations can go a long way in fostering mutual respect and appreciation.

  • Understand the Significance:
    • While Ascension Day may have familiar parallels in other countries or cultures, the Dutch observance might possess nuances unique to its context. Taking a moment to read about or ask locals about the day’s significance can offer deeper insights. Knowledge, as they say, is the first step to understanding.
  • Dress Appropriately:
    • If you decide to attend church services or religious ceremonies, ensure your attire is modest and respectful. It’s a small gesture, but it speaks volumes about your respect for local norms.
  • Participation is Welcome but Not Obligatory:
    • The Dutch are known for their inclusive and tolerant nature. As a foreigner, you’ll often find that you’re welcome to partake in local customs and traditions. However, there’s no obligation. Observing from a distance or simply acknowledging the day is also a form of respect.
  • Ask Questions, Politely:
    • Curiosity is natural, especially when confronted with unfamiliar customs. Feel free to ask questions if you’re unsure about any aspect of the celebrations. However, always approach the topic with sensitivity and genuine interest. It’s often appreciated when people seek to learn.
  • Be Mindful of Public Decorum:
    • While Ascension Day in the Netherlands might encompass both solemn and festive moments, maintaining a general sense of decorum in public spaces is always a good idea. Loud or disruptive behavior, especially in places of worship or quiet reflection, should be avoided.
  • Embrace the Experience:
    • Respecting local traditions isn’t just about adhering to norms. It’s also about embracing the experience wholeheartedly. Whether it’s joining the “dauwtrappen” early morning walks or enjoying a special Ascension Day meal, immersing yourself in the local culture enriches your understanding and creates lasting memories.

Related: New to the Netherlands

ABOUT Sofia Van Dirk

Sofia van Dijk is our resident Relocation Expert at Born and raised in the Netherlands, Sofia possesses extensive knowledge of Dutch culture, local customs, and the practicalities of living in this unique country. She studied International Relations at the University of Amsterdam and spent several years working for an international relocation company before joining our team.

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