Despite being super Dutch growing up, I never really had a special bond with ice skating. When I was little and it was cold enough we used to go ice skating at the teeny tiny little water next to my house. If that water hadn’t frozen over yet, but temperatures were just below zero my dad would sometimes empty a couple of buckets of waters on the parking lot next to my house, where the neighborhood kids could ‘ice skate with shoes on’. The kids were joyfully slipping and sliding, while their parents complained they couldn’t find a parking spot.
Let’s do a quick slide through history. The first form of ice skating human like creatures ever engaged in consisted of carved bones tied to people’s feet with tendons, and this happened waaaaay long ago (3000 BC). The earliest remnants of these objects were actually not found in the Netherlands (perhaps that area was still sea and swamp back then), but in Finland. Newer remnants were found on other places in Scandinavia, and even newer ones in the geographical area that we call Belgium and the Netherlands.
There’s a couple of factors that contributed to the popularity of ice skates.
Landscape – If you look at the landscapes around here it’s pretty self-explanatory: with all the canals around you can practice it anywhere! The winters used to be quite a bit colder so there would also be more days a year you could ice skate.
Transportation – Moreover, ice skating wasn’t just for leisure, it was also a mode of transportation. Apparently bicycles were more expensive than ice skates, so if, for instance, a family would want to visit relatives and they only had one bike, it would make sense to them to just ice skate 5 km with the family as a mode of transportation.
Freedom – I also read another explanation, which stated that the Dutch like ice skating because it gives them a feeling of freedom. There was a time in which people were primarily classified based on their religion; this is called the ‘verzuiling’, which translates to pillarization. But on the ice all were equal and felt free.
Elfstedentocht – Finally, there’s this thing called the ‘eleven cities tour’ [in Dutch: Elfstedentocht] which may have played a role. It is an ice skating competition (but participating is impressive already, regardless of winning) which takes you by 11 cities. Even the current Dutch king joined in a couple times (when he was still a prince), using a pseudonym. This tour originates from 1909. If you want to get a better idea of what this tour is like you should check out the movie ‘De hel van ‘63’. The tour takes only once in the several years place, because the ice is rarely thick enough for the tour. The last tour was in 1997.
In 2010 I lived in Vancouver. My awareness of ice skating as a core aspect of the Dutch culture started right then and there. During the Olympics my sister and I went to the Holland Heineken House (a warehouse that had become the victim of an all consuming orange virus) every now and then. One day we were sitting on the floor of this warehouse with another couple hundred Dutch people, our eyes glued to the wall filling projection of the game that took place not too far from where we were. Sven Kramer (our national ice skating hero who was at the time far ahead and without a doubt headed for gold) followed his coach’s last minute instructions to switch lanes. But his coach was wrong to tell him to switch: Sven had been in the right lane after all! For this reason he got disqualified, and for this reason the entire warehouse was covered in gloom and disbelief. It was then that despite my own meager experience I understood what ice skating means in the Netherlands.
Of course there’s no way I can share this feeling with you; 4,5 years later using nothing more than touching words, Google’s images and video’s. But luckily there are more means! Next week ESN is headed to the ice skating rink, and even if it’s not an Orange Paradise, or natural ice in Friesland, it is still the perfect opportunity for you to get on the ice with Dutchies and with your fellow students and catch a glimpse of this frozen glory!