Friday, December 14, 2012

We Gather Together

We Gather Together (Christian hymn of Dutch origin)

Boats like these sailed from Amsterdam to Leiden.
Engraving by A. van de Venne, ca. 1630.

May 1, 1609 – I imagine a grey, dreary day but the trees are in bloom, their soft petals delicately showering the ground as the wind blows.  The sun hides behind the clouds but teases to kiss the city below with its warm rays:  a promise of happier times ahead.  A large-sailed boat carrying poor but hopeful refugees arrives into Leiden.  It had been a carefully orchestrated move, complete with permission granted by the city to allow the group of approximately 100 people to reside within its borders.  In response to their application, the city of Leiden replied that it, “refuses no honest people free entry to come live in the city, as long as they behave honestly and obey all the laws and ordinances, and under those conditions the applicants' arrival here would be pleasing and welcome.”  I imagine the lot as nervous, anxious, weary but yet, excited.  They view the world around them with wide curious eyes, but yet they carry themselves with confidence and purpose.  They maneuver their boat through the narrow canals and dock.  They carefully exit the boat.  At the time, about 1/3 of Leiden’s population were refugees, mostly from Belgium.  Compared to the other thousands of refugees in town, their small group probably attracted little attention.  But in response to the few passerby’s whom may have witnessed the disembarkment, I imagine the determined members of the group objectively holding their heads as they passed through the cobble stoned streets, giving away nothing of their feelings, amongst the inquisitive whispers in a language they did not understand. They have come to Leiden with hopes of peace and prosperity, because the town is famous for its industry and Calvinist University
Delfshaven, where the Pilgrims embarked for New England in 1620.
Engraving by Abraham Rademaker, 1725
  These men and women are Christians who separated from the Church of England, otherwise known as the Pilgrims.  They had fled England to The Netherlands in 1608 and after spending a year in Amsterdam, a controversial split forced the group to divide from the Amsterdam Separatists.  Leading the charge, John Robinson and William Brewster decided to move their remaining Separatists (about 1/3 of the original population) to Leiden.  For 12 years, the congregation lived and worked in Leiden.  Of the 100 members, about half of the Pilgrims worked in Leiden’s booming cloth industry.  The textile industry lived and thrived with the immigrant population and in 1612 more than 95,000 large pieces of cloth were made and stamped with Leiden’s unprecedented seals of quality.  Starting in 1620, the Pilgrims started to emigrate.  They left to Delftshaven (a suburb of Rotterdam) via the Speedwell, which took them to Southhampton, U.K., where they met up with the Mayflower.  The Speedwell turned out to be leaky and had to be sold; therefore, everyone climbed aboard the Mayflower to make the famous solo voyage across the ocean.   The Pilgrims created the first English settlement in America, Plymouth Colony.  One year after the Pilgrims left Holland they dined and gave appreciation for a plentiful crop alongside their Native American neighbors.  This harvest feast of 1621 is commemorated annually in America on the fourth Thursday of November, Thanksgiving Day.
  The day after my family and I returned from America, my good friend from Germany, Amy and her roommate, Andrea arrived in Leiden.  The plans were to celebrate Thanksgiving in Europe, no matter what.  In anticipation of their arrival, I had excitedly and purposefully cleaned my house all day.  That’s the thing about living in The Netherlands – I’m not sure if it’s my old home which isn’t properly sealed, the fact that there is no central air or heat, and/or because we do not live far from farmland (I always recall memories of my Grandmother complaining about trying to dust her home in Lubbock, Texas) but when we go on vacation, no matter how much I clean beforehand, I always come back to a dusty house, smelling like dirt.  Which, by the way, is exactly what you want after you’ve traveled halfway across the world, or rather, not-so-much.   Either way, I was motivated to clean and by the time my friends arrived on Wednesday evening, the house happily smelled more like flowers than potting soil. 
Precious plunder courtesy of the American base 
  My friends have friends who have access to the American military grocery store outside of Frankfurt, Germany.  They came armed with the most precious of plunder – French’s Fried Onions, Stovetop Stuffing, Jiffy Cornbread Mix, and canned pumpkin.  To my excitement, I found cranberries (marketed as “De power-bessen uit de USA!”) and sweet potatoes at our local C1000 grocery store.  Unfortunately, the only turkey I have ever seen in the country was walking around a petting zoo in Merenwijk, located within a bike ride (or extremely motivated stroller walk) not too far from our house, so I had already decided months ago, that the Barefoot Contessa's Lemon Chicken recipe was going to be our main dish of choice.  (Side note:  I did learn from a fellow mother that The Netherlands does have turkeys around Christmas time.  You can find them at a special butcher, for a special price.  After hearing the details, I think we will still just opt for chicken at Christmas again.)  Who knew turkeys were so. . . American?
Our Thanksgiving Meal!  (with chicken)
    We shopped at the grocery store the night before Thanksgiving with ease.  Baby Girl went to school on Thanksgiving morning, and after a full day of work, V arrived home around 6:30 p.m.  With that, it wasn’t quite the typical Thanksgiving Day off, but the new format had its advantages.  Amy, Andrea, and I divided and conquered the menu, and while rotating who was in charge of entertaining the kids, we cooked the entire meal in just a couple of hours.  We gave the kids a small sample of each dish and put them to bed by 7:00.  After Skyping my brother in California and wishing other family members a happy holiday, the four of us sat down to a grown-up and uninterrupted meal around 8:00 that night.  (Which was kind of appropriate, since my family always ate our Thanksgiving meal early in the afternoon – Central Standard Time). 
  Leiden still celebrates the American-Dutch relationship and can proudly boast that no fewer than nine of the American Presidents, including recent Presidents, George Bush and Barack Obama, descended from the Leiden Pilgrims.  Every year at 11:00 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning, a non-denominational Thanksgiving Service is held at the historic St. Pieterskerk in Leiden.  The Leiden American Pilgrim Museum was founded in 1997 and illustrates the daily life of the Pilgrims while living in Leiden.  
   The weekend was a successful and happy one.  I enjoyed being able to mesh an American holiday with a life-long friend, on a new continent.  We missed the Macy’s Day parade, but didn’t miss the Black Friday (or what is this. . . now Black Thursday afternoon?) specials.  Amy and Andrea toured Amsterdam during the day, and we all feasted on leftovers and played card games at night when they returned.   As any fabulously creative elementary school teachers would do – they took my imported American Christmas decorations and helped me find the perfect method of decorating my Dutch home with them, all of which occurred, the day after Thanksgiving!  The Dutch are apparently pressured to not decorate their homes for Christmas until after Sinterklaas on December 5th. . . A rule we broke, of course, without knowing (like so many others), so in the end, with our fake Christmas tree already up before beginning of December, we had a jump-start on everyone else.  
Map of Leiden (detail) showing the Pieterskerk.
John Robinson's house was just south of the
free-standing bell tower.  Engraving by Pieter Bast, 1600.
  A few hours before their train was scheduled to depart we even attempted a family photo-shoot in hopes of obtaining a Christmas-card-worthy-photo (nevermind the logistics of such things. . . there’s always email, right?).  Amy, an amateur photographer, in a desperate attempt to turn the darkest room of our house into a successful photo, turned on all lights, brought in lamps from the other rooms, opened curtains, and then setup the family in front of our Christmas tree for the event.  We all dressed up, but unfortunately, Mama’s excessive primping routine overlapped into Little Man’s morning nap time and while we did attempt to take what seemed to be about 500 photos, I can’t say there is a single one where both kids are smiling.  (This is the fact of life, right?  My mom always shook her head wisely. . . the more children and more dogs you try to take photos of. . . .)   Oh well, the memories of my Thanksgiving ‘family’ making ridiculously goofy faces in attempts to entertain my children resulting in only making me and V laugh in spite of ourselves is priceless. 
  They rushed out the door and we said brief but meaningful goodbyes.  Behind them, they left a multitude of happy memories and a precious box of Jiffy cornbread mix in my pantry. 
  There is little doubt in my mind that the Pilgrims may have learned a thing or two during their stay in Leiden, which perhaps influenced their thinking when creating the ideals and traditions of a new land and the Mayflower Compact. One theory I ran across in my research is that perhaps the Pilgrim’s idea of having a specific day dedicated to thanksgiving was influenced by Leiden’s Onzet – the October 3rdcelebration of the Relief of Leiden from the Spanish, which of course, they witnessed if not celebrated alongside their neighbors, for at least 12 years.  Like the Pilgrims, I am thankful for the perspective life has given me, the friends and family I have, the beliefs I hold true to my heart, and to be able to celebrate it all, no matter where I am.     

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