The water, the eternal enemy of the Netherlands, but when the water has changed into ice, it is less dangerous. With ice-skating, the Netherlands celebrates a temporary victory over the water.
For the Dutch ice-skating is folk culture. Something is folk culture when suddenly it becomes very important, when it is difficult to explain to foreigners, when it is widely supported and does not attract anything of hierarchy or regional differences. Ice-skating is popular entertainment that lives in almost all provinces and appeals to everyone – young and old, poor and rich. The skate is perhaps an even greater cultural aspect than the bicycle in the Netherlands. Everybody is equal on ice, even in places where the pool is closed on Sundays, the skating rink often is open.
Most Dutch people learn ice-skating when they are very young. For example, me myself went ice-skating once a week every winter in Amsterdam at the Jaap Eden IJsbaan from age 6 to 10. The ice-skating rink has been named after Jaap Eden. He was one of the best skaters in the 19th and 20th century. He’s been the world champion for the allround three times. But this is nothing compared to our new champion: Sven Kramer. He has won almost 200 golden medals these past few years with the Olympics, World Champions, European Champions, et al. And we should not forget about our women either, for example: Ireen Wüst and Jorien ter Mors. Both successful ice-skaters.
When temperature goes below 0 degrees Celsius, almost every Dutch person will get “ice-skating fever”. Because when the canals, rivers and seas are frozen, the ice-skating will shift from the rink to the natural ice. As soon as the rivers “look” frozen, we will try out the ice, especially the kids. It happens quite a lot that the ice, unfortunately, isn’t thick enough… which means that the kids will fall through it. Not to worry, most of the time they are quite all right. When the ice is thick enough, we can start trying out the ice. Schools will close for the day, kids have ice-free. Adults take the day off from work. Think about all the beautiful canals in Amsterdam, frozen and filled with people. Little shops appear on the ice with glühwein (mulled wine), hot chocolate with optional rum and poffertjes (Dutch Mini Pancakes). Everybody goes skating.
The news, talk shows and social media, everybody is talking about ice-skating. They are discussing whether or not we can have an ice-skating race on natural ice, called the “Elfstedentocht”. It’s an ice-skating tour that goes through eleven cities. The last time we were able to do the tour was in January 1997. Unfortunately, global warming isn’t helping our ice-skating fever. But who knows, maybe 2018 will be our year.