Indian expatriate Meher Fatma decided to use King's Day – probably the most Dutch day of the year – to teach her daughter about an important custom in her home country. Here's how she got on.
A Carnival on the Canal
Party boats jam-pack the picturesque canals and the city bursts with orange-pride, it’s a celebration of royal proportions. The streets on King’s Day heave with foot traffic as curious buyers and optimistic sellers cram together. Everything under the sun is on offer. We snap up a spot along the street and participate in this open-for-all flea market. For the last two years, King’s Day has helped us counter the raw consumerism that grips our family on other holidays.
As newcomers, my husband and I try to embrace the holidays of our host country and we decided to make King’s Day more meaningful to us. Bringing up our child away from home, we wanted her to reconnect with her roots as she participated in the festivities. Growing up in a small town tucked in the eastern belt of India, I was raised with a strong culture of giving back to the community. Most of our festivals demand a customary deed of charity and sharing with others less fortunate. It has been an important part of our childhood and our parents always taught us to look out for others who could use a little help from us – and where we grew up there were plenty who could.
Missing our festivals back home, we launched a little project to help our daughter understand the basics of charity and recognise her relative privilege. The vrijmarkt on King’s Day has since served us with a perfect platform. The idea is simple: we put up a stall with items our child has outgrown and the money we raise through the sales goes towards a charitable cause.
A Shaky Start
In the first year, executing this plan was more challenging that we’d hoped. We began explaining to our then four-year-old that not everyone has money to walk into a store and buy something they like. She suggested they use plastic cards.
We encouraged her to review the clutter piled up in her room and see how many toys she hadn’t played with in over a year. She instantly hated the idea of parting with any. We gently prodded her about the soft baby shoes that were loosely hanging on the feet of a plush Minion toy. She responded with a firm “No”. The Minion couldn’t stay barefoot, pink pumps on his feet were a must!
We realised how miserably we were failing to turn our daughter into a mini-philanthropist. She felt that she was being punished and that was obviously not the goal. After some talking, she finally agreed to part with some of her toys and let go of her old shoes.
The Big Day
We started early on King’s Day and settled in an empty spot by the canal bridge in the busy neighborhood of Oud Zuid. Buyers poured in quickly to our makeshift stall. Her very first sale was for 12 euro, when a very eager mum happily picked up five pairs of shoes and a wooden toy kettle. My daughter took the money from the customer and we helped her change the cash.
Next, a friend dropped in and generously offered a coin towards her charity. Our daughter instinctively picked up a pair of pretty ballerinas and offered it in exchange for the coin. She was finally picking up bits of the business. Understanding how money works was a new lesson for her, and a big bonus in our scheme of things.
In three hours we raised an impressive 40 euros. We decided to send the amount to her grandfather in India who actively supports education for many underprivileged children. Euros convert to a lot more in Indian Rupees.
An Important Lesson and a Link with Home
Her grandmother called us the next week to tell her how happy some kids were when they received new sets of books to read, all because she was willing to let go of something that she could easily do without. She was delighted and was finally beginning to see a sense of purpose in parting with her unnecessary possessions.
So much was her excitement that next year she was willing to sell off a new play tent that I had so handsomely paid for – no, I wasn’t ready for it! But this time, we went more prepared on King's Day. We wheeled out our bakfiets and our enthusiastic little girl filled the three-wheeler with boxes of puzzles, talking dinosaurs, and finger puppets, hoping to sell them all.
We have found our own little custom to celebrate this royal holiday. It’s our attempt to create a healthy balance between need and possession for our child. Raising a child abroad, who gets rewarded with gifts every time family or friends visit – an easy compensation for missed birthdays and holidays that were celebrated through video calls – it is easy to lose sight of what truly matters. Starting early with charity will probably help her become a compassionate adult. And, if nothing else works, it’s a great way to kick-start spring cleaning.
Our Tips for a Successful Stall
- Start early as it brings in more serious buyers to the stall.
- Carry some disposable bags to hand out the goods.
- 2-3 hours is a decent time to engage a child at the stall and keep them interested.
- Keep plenty of small change and be prepared for buyers who will haggle for something that is priced as low as 1 euro.
- Bring along some water and warm jackets and be prepared for Amsterdam’s famously unpredictable weather.
- Take your bike, especially if you don’t have a marked spot for the stall. Finding a parking spot for the car will be tough.
Meher Fatma is a full-time mom and a freelance writer. Passionate about DIY projects, she loves putting her crafty ideas to use at Button Balloons, an online party shop that she co-owns.
photo credit: Header - Flickr. Other image - Meher Fatma