May 08, 2010

Welkom home.

According to a recent Gallup poll, my hometown (Holland, Michigan) is the second happiest place in America. Boulder, CO came in first and Honolulu came in third.

Holland is unlike any other place on earth. Located on Lake Michigan, it has light brown beaches that march on forever in both directions. The lake itself is called a freshwater sea. It is the largest lake entirely within one country in the world (by surface area, not volume). There is no way to see all the way across it.  Holland is also home to the largest pickle factory in the world (I am not joking), and it's downtown is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

But the most unique feature of my childhood town of 35,000 people is our extremely Dutch heritage.  The sign at the entrance to our town reads, "Welkom to Holland."  The "V" section of the phonebook far outweighs any other letter.  Everywhere you look you see tall, light-haired people with big feet.  Regardless of your ethnic background, however, you are required to dress your kids like Dutch children from centuries ago (costumes DO undergo inspection) and send them down the street every May for the Kinder Parade.  Pictured below is my nephew, Jack, and his class in the Kinder Parade the other day.

Our town includes Dutch Village, the Veldheer Tulip Gardens, the Holland Museum, Windmill Island (complete with "De Zwaan," a grain-grinding, 240-year-old, ten-story-tall Dutch windmill that sells its own flour), and two wooden shoe factory tours. Everyone who visits can try on a pair.  Every May, along with the Kinder Parade, we have the Volksparade (where the whole town, or whoever wants to, dresses in traditional Dutch costumes and marches down the parade route with buckets of water and push brooms).  Traditionally, the Volksparade's purpose was to clean the horse dung from the streets before the big event (the Dutch are VERY clean people) but anymore it is a good excuse to throw water on your neighbors and have a good time.  The main event is called the Meijer Muziekparade, which draws crowds from around the world. The parade route is lined with Tulips.  A whopping 6 million Tulips are used throughout the city every Spring, and the fee for picking one can be as high $100.  Below, for your viewing enjoyment, are "then and now" pictures of the very popular klompen dancing.  Teenage girls are either soccer players or klompen dancers, for the most part.

Our Highschool athletics are called The Holland Dutch (I know, not very creative).  Our mascot when I was there was a giant wooden shoe named "Woody."  I'm not joking about that, either.  The college in our town and my alma mater, Hope College, are the Flying Dutchmen.  You guessed it, a wooden shoe with wings.

So there you have it, Holland, a little blog tribute to you.  Though I am not within your borders this May, I am thinking of you and wishing you the best.  If I close my eyes, I can feel the sunny wind along your shores and smell the Tulips and the pickles and the fudge and the elephant ears, all the way from Arkansas.