What’s going on?
Every year, people in Leiden commemorate the end of the Siege of Leiden. In 1573, during the Eighty Years’ War, the Spanish army surrounded Leiden because it rebelled against the Spanish king. The siege lasted for a year, and many people died of starvation or the plague. In 1574, the ‘watergeuzen’ (sea beggars) pierced the dykes near Rotterdam and flooded the area, so Leiden could be saved on October 3rd.
What’s with the hutspot, herring and white bread?
The celebrations come with some, maybe odd, traditions. First there is the food. Hutspot is a stew with potato, carrots and onions, often served with ‘klapstuk’ (stewed brisket). It is believed that when the Spanish were defeated, they left a pan with hutspot, and it became the first thing the starving people from Leiden would eat in a long time. So every year, people from Leiden can get a plate on 2 October at the Hooglandse Kerk.
The same goes for herring and white bread. Allegedly, it is what the sea beggars brought the starving Leiden community after they were liberated. On Thursday, in the very early morning, you may see a long line of people in good spirits waiting in front of De Waag to collect their free portion of raw herring and white bread. It’s a matter of pride for people in Leiden to be there early. De Waag opens at 7.30 am, but people will start lining up from around 5 o’clock.
The registration for both events is closed, unfortunately. But don’t worry, plenty of restaurants serve hutspot if you want to try it, and you can buy herring anywhere.
Who are all these people?
Leidens Ontzet is much bigger here than King’s Day, and the city will be very crowded. Though the official holiday is on October 3, the actual celebrations start the day before. For many people, the night between 2 and 3 October is when the real party is. So expect a lot of people to be out. Don’t let it stop you from joining in. If you don’t mind the crowds, you can go to the heart of the celebrations, at the Nieuwe Rijn and the Hooglandse Kerk. The rest of the city is just as lively. Most bars will be open and there are stages with music all over the city center. The best idea is to get some drinks and walk around. Don’t bring your bike! If you live far away, park it somewhere outside the city center.