Children’s Dutch Circle Party Tradition

If you have spent any amount of time living in the Netherlands you’ve probably been invited to a Dutch Circle Party and thought that you have experienced the strangest thing the country has to offer. However, you would be wrong.

It is true that a party where everyone sits in a circle, drinking tea or coffee while enjoying a slice of cake and a polite conversation with an elderly family member is strange, but it is not the ‘strangest’ party experience possible. There is another far more bizarre level to the Dutch Circle Party that not everyone has experienced yet… The Children’s Dutch Circle Party.

The first strange thing that you might notice upon arriving at a Children’s Dutch Circle Party is the slight lack of children. That’s not to say that there won’t be children at all, there will be at least a few. They will just be greatly outnumbered by the amount of adults present. In some extreme cases there might not even be any other children attending at all beyond the birthday girl or boy themselves. This is because the invites are usually organised by the parents and they will invite people that they want to hang out with. This also means that having no children of your own does not protect you from an invite to a Children’s Dutch Circle Party. The only real way to avoid such an invite is to make sure you and your partner never make friends with anyone who has children or is thinking of having children.

Before you sit down you’ll be expected to shake hands with everyone in the room and congratulate them for simply knowing the birthday boy or girl, just as you would at a standard Dutch Circle Party. The only difference is that where you would usually start with the birthday person themselves you will now finish with them instead (if you actually congratulate them at all). This is usually because they are too busy running around the room on a huge sugar rush (from eating all the sweets on display) with all the other children.

If possible you’ll then give the child their birthday present (or give it to the parents if not) and they will happily open it. However, they probably won’t play with it much yet. Once the gift is opened and everyone has seen what it is the parents will put it up on display on a nearby table or shelf with the other gifts for later guests to see.

Once the introductions and congratulations are complete it is finally time to take a seat. Of course it would not be a Circle Party without the typical Dutch Circular seating arrangement. Luckily (depending on how you look at it), the Dutch adults are on hand to provide it. As if by natural instinct they will form the familiar seating circle in which to enjoy their coffee, tea and slice of cake. The children however who do not fully understand the rules of a Dutch Circle Party yet will be running around the circle, through it, across it (and in some extreme cases) over and under it (in a manner that might have some of the adults requesting them to, “doe normaal”).

When it comes to requesting a drink the chances of there being alcohol are surprisingly much higher at a Children’s Dutch Circle Party than at a standard Dutch Circle Party (where it is often considered strange behaviour to request a beer). This isn’t because the children have a serious drinking problem. It’s because one of the organisers of the party is probably a Dad who (since becoming a Dad) misses beer and knows that the other Dads will probably miss beer too. He has thus used the excuse of being a good host and the event having the word ‘party’ in it to buy a crate of beer. The children however are still only allowed non-alcoholic drinks (no matter how much they ask).

For the most part the children are usually left to entertain themselves while the adults try to continue the kind of conversations they would have at a normal Dutch Circle Party (but with their concentration occasionally interrupted by having to react to the sound of something breaking). To the outside observer it probably looks like a standard Dutch Circle Party that someone has just released a random group of wild children into.

By the end of the day the room will look like a toy bomb went off in it since the children have had several hours to scatter their playthings over and under every available surface (this will not include the gifts on display of course). The adults will be exhausted from being in the vicinity of hyperactive children all day, the snacks will be finished and the children will be going through sugar withdrawal. It will be time to say goodbye and go home. In honoured Dutch tradition each child will receive a goodie bag from the hosts with a small toy and a selection of more sugary sweets (which the parents will sometimes start eating the moment they are out of view).

If everyone survives the party they will get to do it again next year and the year after. Eventually the Children’s Circle Party will evolve into a standard Circle Party. The sugary snacks will slowly be replaced with ‘kaas & worst’, more elderly family members will be invited and the availability of alcohol will slowly decline (after the teenage years of course). The circle party cycle will be complete.

13 responses to “Children’s Dutch Circle Party Tradition”

  1. Gerlof says:

    Ah yes, our brilliant dutch social gatherings. We like to start our indoctrination program early :)

    How does it differ from an english children birthday party btw. ?

    • Invader Stu says:

      The adults are usually too busy running party games for the children to sit down and the cake being brought out is a big moment when the lines are put out, the candles lit and everyone sings happy birthday.

  2. Mari says:

    Being married to a dutch man, I really enjoy reading your posts. I’ve only been to a grown-up circle party, and as much as I love sweets (in Brazilian after all), I think the kids circle party version may be way too wild for me! There would be beer tho.. I do think the two versions lack balance: there should be equal amount of sweets and alcohol for both versions!

  3. Voula says:

    Im Canadian of Greek decent and I read your posts in preparation for my move to holland.
    Perhaps this is too early in my initiation but I don’t understand the circle party concept. In my family our house parties are typically the same, lots of food, lots of drinks, lots of people ( big and small) and lots of gifts. Food is usually served Buffet style (for more than 10 Guests), everyone grabs a plate, serves themselves and finds a seat. No circles.

  4. Marjo says:

    During my daily check up of Dutch newspaper websites today I actually saw the term ‘kringverjaardagen’ coined by De Volkskrant, that was a first. Would that mean that the Dutch (well I am obviously one of them) do have a separate understanding of birthdays and circle birthday parties?
    I think my parents have always served loads and loads of alcohol, no matter what age we were and are now. The grandparents on my mother’s side actually never served beer but did usually serve spirits. My siblings and I grew up not particularly caring for alcohol much at all..

    • Invader Stu says:

      I think the Dutch have slowly started to catch on to the fact that the circle party tradition is strange (probably because I keep on telling them in the case of the Dutch people I know).

  5. suus says:

    Actually thanks to Stue (I read the original adult circle birthday party post a long time ago) I see… Dutch circles. In my breaktime with fellow smokers we.. we form a circle. Every single time. Perhaps because I am aware of the Circle or perhaps because I am socially awkward i tend to accidentally break the Circle by somehow standing right in the middle of it. And then to make things worse I tell everyone. “Hah! We all form a circle naturally but I am standing in the middle haha!”. Yeah. I’m not much invited to birthday parties anymore. I might also quit smoking solely for this reason.

    btw Stue this children’s circle is again eerily familiair.

  6. dirksmama says:

    You forget to mention that circles form an intrinsic part of the Dutch education system. ‘Kringgesprekken’ in the higher years and ‘kringtijd’ for preschoolers and kindergartners. You will never see a Dutch teacher sitting on a chair towering over her 4 year olds sitting on the mat…ever. Each child sits on it’s own assigned chair, adjusted to it’s height and adorned with a cheerful name tag.

  7. Australian says:

    I cant agree on what you have written above, sorry. Usually dutch children parties included many games, many interactions and lots of laughs. Kids are entertained with many games and competitions and can win lollies and treats. Adults play along and have fun. Been to adult parties where alcohol was available but never at a kids party!

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