Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Thanksgiving, Dutch style

Ten points for anyone who can name where a large majority of the pilgrims first settled. Any takers? ---- No, it wasn't in the US, otherwise I wouldn't have asked that question. And your answer has to be more specific than 'The Netherlands'.

The very fist place the pilgrims fled was to Amsterdam. But, if that was your answer, you'd be wrong. They lived in Amsterdam for 6 months, but didn't settle there.

The correct answer is: Leiden. They settled in Leiden for 11 years before making their pilgrimage to the US. Leiden is about an hour away by train, and just north of Den Haag, in western Holland. Obviously the pilgrims didn't take the train there, but I wasn’t keen on renting a horse and buggy to provide the official travel time.

On Saturday I was invited to go to the English speaking branch of my church to have dinner with them. Which means, I was lucky enough to have two Thanksgivings this year. (Thursday I shared it with 14 other Americans here in Amsterdam.) Since the branch meets in Leiden, I went early with two friends to tour the town and get us in the Thanksgiving mood.

Leiden looks like a smaller version of Amsterdam, but with a lot more breathing room. It wasn't hard to see why the pilgrims wanted to call Leiden home. We wandered around town for a while, toured a few churches and stopped at the pilgrim's museum. For 3 Euros we received a phenomenal hour long history lesson of pilgrim life. The museum volunteer was originally from Oregon. Thirty years ago he just ‘happened’ to move to Leiden, then decided to get his masters degree in the history of the city from 1550-1650. Now that he is retired, he volunteers at the museum, willing and ready to answer any question you can throw at him.

The main reason the pilgrims moved to Leiden, which was the 2nd largest city in Holland at the time, was because there were many opportunities for work. However, after 11 years, work wasn't as plentiful and they began to worry that their children were being corrupted by the Dutch. So they made their voyage across the wide blue sea, making a slight detour in the UK to board the Mayflower.

If you and I are on the same wavelength, you may think, "wait…, ‘corrupted’ by the Dutch?" In response to your brilliant question, I’ll tell you what I learned. The pilgrims were quite orthodox in their religion. They had 3 meetings every Sunday. The 2nd meeting was mainly a discussion between men, and the women and children had to sit silently and listen. -Albeit, at times women were permitted to contribute to the discussion.- During this 2nd meeting, their children would get restless as they heard the little Dutch kids playing outside in the afternoon sun. And that was how the Dutch were corrupting the children of the British religionists.

After the lesson we stopped next door at an antique shop, which housed artifacts of the pilgrim era. It was a labyrinth of items to walk through, and quite neat to say the least. I'm not sure what anyone would do with half the items they had, such as a broken church spire. Although, I’m sure it would make for a good conversation piece.

Our last stop before dinner was to visit the city's fort. I was in awe that there was a hill, and such a large one at that, in the Netherlands. ...Until we discovered it was man made. The view from the top of the fort was beautiful, and again confirmed why the pilgrims chose Leiden to settle in for so long.

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