History of the Amsterdam 'kermis'

Kermis was originally a yearly market celebrating the consecration day of a town’s patron saint, the word itself being a degeneration of kerk (church) and mis (mass).

The event lost many of its religious connotations in larger cities as the years passed, but in smaller villages across the country the link can still be seen, where kermis ties in with a consecration day procession.

Amsterdam was one of the places where kermis really went big, with the months of September and October traditionally being reserved for the festival. Tents, stalls and stages lined the streets and squares, with the centre of it all being the Botermarkt, now the Rembrandtplein. The majority of Amsterdammers saved up the whole year so they would have enough money to celebrate in style, while some employers even gave their workers a special ‘kermis tip’.

While the rich amused themselves with a Kermis stuk (a special play), peasant revellers immersed themselves in song until they all fell about rather tipsy. The festival often turned wild, and eventually unrest and rioting followed, as did a ban, in 1875. But it returned in 1949 by popular demand and today is enjoyed several times a year at different locations between February and October.

Family fairground attraction

The modern-day kermis has all the fairground musts. The PG-rated shooting galleries, hook the duck, dodgems, kids tugging at the sleeves of parents for a go at the coconut shy and parents tugging at their purses for some traditional Dutch oliebollen (round doughnut-like pastries without the jammy soft centre) or poffertjes (baby pancakes). In short: kermis is the funfair you’ll all remember, with some extra Dutch trimmings.

2016 Amsterdam funfair calendar

  • Buiksloot, 26 February - 6 March
  • Westerpark, 11 - 20 March
  • Osdorp, 25 March - 3 April
  • Olympic Stadium, 25 March - 3 April
  • Sierplein, 7 - 10 April
  • Dam, 15 - 30 April
  • Nieuwmarkt, 23 - 27 April         
  • Kraaiennest Zuidoost, 4 - 8 May
  • Anton de Komplein Zuidoost, 4 - 8 May
  • Zeeburg,19 - 22 May    
  • Oosterpark, 20 - 29 May
  • Ecuplein, 27 May - 5 June
  • Heinekenplein, 8 - 12 June
  • IJburg, 14 - 19 June
  • Jan van Galenstraat, 22 - 26 June
  • Nelson Mandelapark, 9 July - 7 August
  • Mercatorplein, 23 September - 2 October
  • Javaplantsoe, 5 - 9 October
  • Buiksloot, 7 - 16 October
  • Dam, 12 - 23 October
  • Anton de Komplein Zuidoost, 14 - 23 October
  • Osdorp, 21 - 30 October