The flag can be flown this afternoon for graduating students in the Netherlands, but where did this tradition actually come from?

For many graduating students, it can be flown again this afternoon: the Dutch flag with a school bag attached. It marks the end of secondary school. But where does this tradition actually come from?

An article by Remco Koumans, De Limburger

It seems like a tradition that is centuries old, but nothing could be further from the truth. Anyone looking at newspaper archives will see that it was only after World War II that graduation was celebrated by hanging out the Nederlandse driekleur (Dutch tricolour flag). The use of a school bag is mentioned for the first time in 1958 in newspaper Het Rotterdamsch Parool. At a house on Straatweg, a resident had hung a school bag on the end of the flagpole, as a sign of "grote opluchting" (great relief).

Ineke Strouken, former director of the Nederlands Centrum voor Volkscultuur (Netherlands folk culture centre), now called the Kenniscentrum Immaterieel Erfgoed Nederland (Dutch Centre for Intangible Cultural Heritage) knows that raising the flag after graduating really took off in the 1960s. "It was the time when 'ordinary' people also went on to study at a university. Before that, studying was still something for the richer people. That you got your degree was something the whole neighbourhood was allowed to know about."

Signal function
According to Strouken, the reason a flag was chosen was because of the importance that it had in the neighbourhood you lived in at that time. "With the flag, you indicated to the rest of the neighbourhood that something was going on. But a flag alone wasn't much help, because then no one knew what it was for. Then the custom arose to also hang the school bag there, and later the books. In those days, it was also customary to hang, for example, a kraamkloppertje (door knocker decorated with silk and lace) on the outside door of a woman who had just given birth or to place a sheaf of straw at the house where someone had died."

There are no regulations on the [private] use of the Nederlandse driekleur in the Netherlands. Although there is a flag protocol, which sets out rules for the use of the flag on government buildings. For other residents in the Netherlands these apply at most as guidelines. Legally, however, there is nothing compulsory. Therefore, if you want, you are allowed to fly the flag every day of the year. In practice, however, you see that most people do so on special occasions. During royal birthdays, for instance, but also when you have something to celebrate, such as graduating or a getting your driving licence.

School flag
A trend that has been on the rise in recent years is not hanging the Dutch flag outside, but a flag with the school's name and logo on it. Not only handy if you don't have a Dutch flag, or a flagpole, but also useful as a marketing tool for the school – and everyone also immediately sees what you have to celebrate. "We also hope that pupils hang up the flag as a sign that they have also felt connected to their school," a spokesperson for Stichting Onderwijs Midden-Limburg (Midden-Limburg education foundation) informed. "A school can decide for itself whether to give such a flag as a gift to their pupils, and you actually see it happening more throughout the province in recent years."

How long you leave a flag up after you have passed is up to everyone. But by the time the summer holidays are over, chances are everyone will know.

This article was translated by the News in English team from an original article published in provincial newspaper De Limburger.