Fairly recently I was on my way out of a meeting about the international student newspaper of Leiden, when someone said to me, “are you going to this thing at 7pm on Nieuwe Rijn?” Now, I live on that canal, and that anything was going on there was news to me. This happens fairly regularly. Leiden is a fairly small town, but is buzzing with a seemingly limitless number of events I normally know nothing about. I didn’t have plans, so I thought I would go along. If nothing else I live on the street so it’s not exactly far out of the way. No one could tell me what was happening though; the closest I got was “all the kids of Leiden wonder around a lot.” Mysterious.
There was a lot of security tape on scene when I arrived, but almost no people. Some friends and I parked up with a beer in a nearly café and waited for something to happen. Sure enough, within 10 minutes .. well… a lot of children started wondering around. It took a little asking around to establish that what we were waiting for was Leiden’s rather unique take on turning on the Christmas lights. It’s not exactly like the UK tradition of a Z list celebrity pressing a plunger outside of the shopping centre. Children of Leiden parade through the streets carrying lanterns, converging on the centre of town by the city hall.
Once everyone was gathered on either side of the canal, the music started up… and what a playlist. Disney songs, many translated into Dutch, swept forth. You’ve really never heard Sebastian the Crab sing “Under the Sea” until you’re heard it in Dutch , Jamaican accent and all (Diep in de zee – although in this version he sounds a bit like Omid Djalili) . I don’t think there was any deep meaning to this, just that any public occasion is enriched with a bit of “Oh I just can’t wait to be king,” from the Lion King. The more musical amongst you might even want to try and sing along to A Whole New World. And to think you said Dutch wasn’t a beautiful language.
Just as I had reverted to the state of an excited 7 year old, I noticed two longboats being rowed towards each other in the canal, lit by blue lights. It’s best to just check the pictures here, because I honestly don’t really understand what happened or why. Men dressed as clockwork figures stood at the front and lead the boats, finally touching with an explosion of red flares. It was an impressive sight. Everyone was happy and cheering as the flares burnt, and then about 30 seconds later everyone left. Just like that. Oh, and at some point in all this they turned the Christmas lights on.