Jay Gatsby and the Circle of Death

Just inside the front door of most Dutch houses, including ours, you typically find another, interior door. If you’re an American and you haven’t been in the Netherlands very long, you’ll probably assume this is the door to the coat closet. Next thing you know, you’re trying to hang your coat up in a tiny powder room with a toilet, a small sink with one cold tap, a radiator turned permanently off, and a wall calendar marking the year’s birthdays.

You can’t hang your coat up here, but you can definitely check out when the next birthday falls.

 Typical Dutch powder room. The new birthday calendar is visible over the toilet. It will last indefinitely as it shows the day but not the year. If your name is on the calendar, it means you’re in. Typical Dutch powder room. The new birthday calendar is visible over the toilet. It will last indefinitely as it shows the day but not the year. If your name is on the calendar, it means you’re in.

Last weekend our youngest turned 13. This was his second birthday in the Netherlands, and he asked me to host a Dutch circle party. Called by some the circle of death, I was surprised and a bit unsure of exactly how it would go.

I also decided it was time to put a birthday calendar in the downstairs powder room.

Instead of having one cake one time for your birthday guests, the idea of the circle party is to have an entire afternoon of cakes for your birthday guests while they sit in a circle chatting. Think of it as cake buffet with a round seating arrangement.

 The cake buffet. The kids baked the whole day before. The cake buffet. The kids baked the whole day before.

As the guests arrived over the course of the afternoon, they congratulated all of us on the birthday because Dutch birthday tradition celebrates the birthday person and his extended family. The birthday boy was slipped many white envelopes to be opened immediately, full of cash.

 It started to look a little like the wedding scene from Goodfellas. It started to look a little like the wedding scene from Goodfellas.

We had set the furniture in an actual circle inside, but as it was not raining, we ended up outside around the patio table. Family, friends, and neighbors, the Dutch birthday is about togetherness in general, and the birthday person specifically.

I’m not sure about the circle of death part. The cat might have an opinion, especially after making himself violently ill after eating most of the cheesecake while we were busy circling outside.

 Everyone thought the cheesecake was especially good. Everyone thought the cheesecake was especially good.

It may also have to do with trouble keeping up with the Dutch conversation for long periods of time, but between pieces of cake there were enough languages spoken to keep everyone interested, except perhaps the birthday boy.

About halfway through the afternoon, I realized he had pulled a Jay Gatsby and wasn’t even at his own party. He’d left with his friends to go kick a soccer ball around the local field. It didn’t matter, the rest of us carried on. We may not have had a champagne fountain, but there was plenty of company, tea, coffee, and beer. And cake, lots of cake.

Mary Petiet is a reporter, writer, and storyteller. Her work is inspired by both her native Cape Cod, where she covers the local farm beat for Edible Cape Cod magazine and her experiences in the Netherlands.  Mary is the author of Minerva’s Owls, (Homebound Publications) finalist in the American Book Fest’s Best Book Awards 2017, religion and spirituality. Minerva’s Owls remembers the divine feminine to re-envision the world.  Mary is currently dividing her time between Cape Cod and the Netherlands.

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