Dutch Language Blog

Traditions: Death and a funeral Posted by on Dec 10, 2008 in Dutch Language

Today’s topic is: Dutch traditions… I’ll probably get back to this topic in the future, depending on what kind of interesting stuff I can find about Dutch traditions…Also, feel free to make suggestions!

If I would ask someone: what’s the first thing that comes to your mind when I mention the name: Holland? Some of the answers are likely to be: windmills, tulips, wooden shoes, Rembrandt, Van Gogh… These of course are the most traditional symbols of the Netherlands.

When I started thinking: what could I say about Dutch traditions? The first thing I thought of was a tradition which is still very much in practice where I come from… this custom has faded in most of the other Dutch cities and villages.

I’m talking about the custom of covering the windows with white sheets (from the inside of course) when someone had died in that house. These sheets would remain there until after the funeral.

I’m not sure about the background of this custom in other parts of the country, but on the former island Urk, the sheets were used to ward off evil spirits.

In the southern parts of the country, people were notified of the deceased personally. Neighbors of the deceased gathered to draw the names of the families they would have to inform. Sometimes this meant they would have to walk for nearly a day,

The deliverer of the news was dressed in black and he delivered the news at the front door, instead of the back door.

On Urk a certain expression developed around this custom. On Urk there were a lot of fishermen’s families and it often happened that the crew of a fishing boat (the so called [ ‘kotters’ and before those the wooden ‘botters’) stayed at sea.

The reverend of the local church would personally inform the families. So, when the reverend passed the different streets and homes… people inside fell silent… He wouldn’t come for them right? And when he finally passed, people finally exhaled in relief. To this day when a chatting group of people fall silent, someone is bound to remark: “The reverend passes by.”

And there were more traditions around death and a funeral.

Like the ‘doodshemd’ or ‘lijkhemd’. This was a special kind of night attire that the bride would make for her wedding night. After the wedding night, it was washed, pressed and put away in the ‘linnenkast’, the closet in which towels, night attires, stockings, bed sheets etc. were stored. After her death, she would be buried in it, only warn once in her wedding night and finally to be buried in it.

The bride would sow her initials on the ‘doodshemd’ with one needle and one thread. After her death, this one needle was broken in half and placed in the coffin. In other parts of the country, the needle was thrown in the fire so nothing would remain.

Most of these traditions are long gone. ‘Het aanzeggen’ (notifying next of kin of the deceased) became an advertisement in the newspaper and cards to family and friends. Only a few small villages still use the tradition of ‘the white sheets to cover the windows.’

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  1. andrew brouwer:

    It would be exciting to watch de koningin op prinjesdag in her golden coach. All the bowing and bad hats