Ascension Day in the Netherlands

The 40th day after Easter, Christians celebrate Ascension Day, known to the Dutch as 'Hemelvaartsdag'. Although the original meaning of Ascension Day isn’t as well-known as that of Easter, it is still a national holiday and a good opportunity to gather with friends, sit outside a cafe and hopefully catch some well-earned rays of sunshine. But what is the actual significance of Ascension Day and what do Christians celebrate on this day?


As you might have gathered from the name, according to the Bible, Ascension Day celebrates the ascension of Jesus Christ. It is the 40th day after his resurrection from the grave and ten days before Pentecost. Easter, Ascension Day and Pentecost form a fundamental unity, as they all revolve around the same salvific event. Ascension Day is believed to be the last time that Jesus appeared to his followers. In religious circles this is mostly celebrated with a church service and in some cases a procession.

The early-morning spring walk

There is, however, one tradition that has seeped into the entirety of Dutch culture and that is the tradition of the early-morning spring walk, known to the Dutch as ‘dauwtrappen’, literally ‘treading the dew’. A lot of people tend to wake up at dawn to go for an early morning walk or cycling tour. This traces back to a tradition from the distant past when people used to wake up at 3 AM on Ascension Day, to walk barefoot through the grass and sing and dance. This was believed to have healing and therapeutic benefits.

For the non-religious, Ascension Day is just a lovely spring holiday, filled with festivals and other fun events. Are you still wondering what to do this Ascension Day? Click on the links below to see the festival calendars for Arnhem and Nijmegen!