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Dutch Begin to Say 'Farewell' to Guilder - 2001-12-24

Come the New Year, millions of Europeans living in a dozen countries will say goodbye to their national currencies in exchange for the new common money, the euro.

In the Netherlands, some people have already started bidding farewell to the Dutch guilder.

A Saturday night at the Paradiso club in Amsterdam is usually a time strictly for bands, D.J.s and dance music. But on this December night, those were replaced by the solemn music and words of a mock midnight mass for the guilder.

Klaas Vos played the preacher. A former priest, Mr. Vos came up with the idea to hold a mass for the guilder to pay homage to the currency that for so long has been part of the Dutch national identity.

It's a time to grieve Mr. Vos says, but also a time to celebrate. Money is not that important that you can't change it, Klaas Vos says. And some things, he told the crowd, don't have to change at all.

"We can hold the name if we agree the whole nation should call the euro a guilder, then nothing happens," he said.

The night of high drama, music and holiness featured chocolate coins both guilders and euros hooded dancers, even mock security guards.

The only thing missing were the tears for the passing of the guilder. The Dutch, unlike many of their European neighbors, have taken a typically national approach to the loss of their currency: pragmatism.

Wouter Bos, the Dutch junior minister of finance says he came to Amsterdam's Paradiso club because it is hard to resist a good party. He attributes the spirit of the evening to what he calls the weird Dutch relationship with money. He says the Dutch love to make money but at the same time think it is sinful. In the end, Mr. Bos says, the merchant mentality wins out.

"In Holland, [the guilder] just doesn't mean a lot to people. We are so small and the outside world is so big that we are not a very nationalist country, there's not a lot of sentiment and emotion around it. We're just changing from one currency to the other and it's almost like a technical affair," he said.

As long as the Dutch can still trade with their money - be it guilders or euros - says Mr. Bos, they'll be fine. It is, after all, still money.