Tuesday, April 8, 2014


Note: Yes, I know it's April. . . and it's a post about Thanksgiving.  Told you I was behind :)  Either way, the next few weeks I'll be posting flashbacks mixed with current events so you'll just have to keep up, Time Travelers Wife style.  But isn't it always a good time of year to feel the warm fuzzies of Thanksgiving and Christmas? 

Thanksgiving (Steven Kellogg)
Monument in Leiden dedicated on the spot where Pilgrims departed for America
 “The history of the Netherlands and the USA come together in Leiden where the Pilgrims lived from 1609 to 1620. Their marriages, births, and deaths are recorded in the Pieterskerk and their minister, John Robinson is buried here. The Pilgrims remained in Leiden because life was free and tolerant.  The so called Separatists who left the England of James I could practice their more simple faith. They conducted services in the home of Reverend John Robinson, located opposite the Pieterskerk. 

Though life was without objection, the people began to fear assimilation. For that and other reasons, they outfitted a 60 ton vessel, The Speedwell, and made plans to depart for “The New world.”  On Friday, July 31, 1620, the Pilgrims left from The Vlietburg in Leiden, via the Vliet to Delfshaven where The Speedwell lay ready. Before embarking, they knelt on the quay and prayed with their minister who stayed behind. . . Those same people eventually boarded the Mayflower at Plymouth, England on September 16, 1620. Their arduous voyage ended at New Plymouth in what is now the state of Massachusetts. 

The following year, to give thanks for their survival on a wild, endless continent, the Pilgrims, the Separatists from Leiden, dined with Native Americans at the first Feast of Thanksgiving in a land that was to become the United States. It is thought that that feast was inspired by the Thanksgiving Services which took place in the Pieterskerk to commemorate freedom from Spanish rule in 1574.

More than three centuries later, Americans all over the world celebrate Thanksgiving. However, in the City of Leiden, a very privileged group gives thanks at the site our founders knew so well.  They are welcomed with the same tolerance bestowed upon The Pilgrims.” – Program, Thanksgiving Day Service, St. Pieterskerk, Leiden

I throw open the curtains to find the sun hiding behind low clouds.  I open the back door to let the dogs out, and the rush of cold air awakes my senses.  Although the day is grey, there’s a crispness in the air and I’m feeling excited and festive (as opposed to gloomy and depressed like I will be in January).  I flip on the lights in the kitchen and begin my typical morning routine – coffee, kids’ breakfast, and a mental agenda for the day.  I shuffle groceries to find what I’m looking for and smile with anticipation.  The pantry is full, the fridge is stuffed, and V is home for the holiday. He decided to take both Thanksgiving Thursday and Black Friday off, even though most of his Dutch co-workers have no clue as to what either of those events are, and are confused by the prospects. “It’s an entire holiday to eat?” the pencil-thin men and skinny-as-a-rail-women ask.  “Well yes. Eat, shop, and watch football,” he replies.  This explanation remains insufficient. 
The entire family is dressed, loaded into and onto the bicycles by 10:00 a.m. The early dress and departure time is a high irregularity for a Thanksgiving holiday (except for that one time I ran the turkey trot in downtown Dallas.)  We pedal down the street. The kids are happy, I’m happy, and well – if we’re all good, then of course, Daddy is happy, too.  If we can’t be in America for Thanksgiving, we plan to re-create it as best as we can, expat-style.  Taking the best of both worlds - we've got an entire itinerary, guest list, and menu plan for the day.     

We chain our bikes to each other outside the St. Pieterskerk in Leiden. I can hear the other Americans yards away, because by now, my ear is sharply attuned to English-speakers. That, and because they’re very loud.  We unload the kids, and no matter how many times I’ve passed the St. Pieterskerk, I’m still in awe of the size, the history, and the beauty of the building. Hand-in-hand, we head towards the castle-like doors and enter. 

Chandeliers glisten, rows fan out from the pulpit, and ancient columns divide spectator’s views.  I spot the color guard, boy scouts, and Girl Scout troops lined up for a procession. Everyone is smiling, everyone is in admiration, and everyone is very, very far away from home.  We find some chairs strategically close to the back and the exit. Our previous experience with Holden in train stations, museums, or any other number of beautifully acoustic-enhancing cavernous spaces in Europe has taught us that our baby boy loves to hear his
Daddy and Little Man inside St. Pieterskerk
voice echo, and has a gift for determining an exact inopportune time to exercise his loud and amazing talent. 
The organ begins, the color guard advances, and the entire audience begins the Pledge of Allegiance. “to the flag, of the United States of America. . .” My eyes pass quickly to V, the vaulted stone ceilings, the audience, to my program. “and to the Republic for which it stands. . . “ I feel like Clark Griswold at his Christmas dining table.  I was expecting a blessing, but put my hand over my heart, and repeat the words I know so well.  “With liberty and justice for all!” Amen? 

The service continues.  My children grow restless, but I relax into the songs, the speeches, and find comfort in the service.  We sing “God Bless America”, “America the Beautiful”, and “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” – the words and music bouncing off the 1,000 year-old stones and raining down on us, inspiring child-like wonder.        

Holden lasts eight minutes before V and I start taking turns chasing him around the back of the church. After forty minutes, we are accompanied by ten other American parents and about thirteen other children. We cross-reference our program with the clock, and are disappointed (and shocked) that the service is only about half-way done after nearly an hour.  We eye our two bored and agitated children.  It is a quick decision to leave and an even quicker execution.

Last summer I had stumbled upon a statue around the corner from the Leiden Archive Center. It’s hidden among shrubs on a tiny, quiet canal. The plaque commemorates the date and members of the Separatists
Americans at the Pilgrim statue on Thanksgiving
who left Leiden on way to America and is erected on the spot in which they stepped aboard.  After the service, we headed over to snap a few shots.
On our way home, we ran into a couple of our friends’. It’s a funny thing – passing your friends’ while riding bikes. You never see each other until you’re past, then there’s the inevitable pulling over and backing up, trying to not block traffic of the other bikes. We’re all sitting on our bikes, talking to our friend Alexandra, when Erin cycles past. We congregate on a bridge above a glistening canal. We’re all happy, excited, preparing for the evening.  “What shall I brings?” and “See you tonights!” are exchanged.  

I’m in the kitchen all afternoon – baking, cooking, tasting, and preparing.  The kids watch Charlie Brown Thanksgiving after nap time. The table is set. The computer is hooked up to the TV – V’s job is to find a live stream of the Thanksgiving Day parade.  Friends arrive and gather. Wine is poured, appetizers served, and Baby Girl and I are competing for ‘best hostess’ award. (She loves parties). 

V is successful and we crowd into the living room to witness balloons floating above 42nd Street in New York City. The timing is perfect for our Thanksgiving dinner.  We eat and eat.  (We don’t have turkey, to the disappointment of our Estonian friends) but we have baked chicken, sweet potatoes, cranberry salad (that didn’t quite congeal – but Jello is hard to come by over here), mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, pumpkin bars (mix imported via Target), muffins, and more.    

Thanksgiving dinner in Leiden
We push back our plates, wipe our mouths, and groan with the happiness. The computer/TV is now streaming the Dallas Cowboys football game and we’ve moved from the dining table to park ourselves on the couch, sipping our wine, letting our food settle.  Tradition. Complete.  

As the evening passes, V and I escort our friends periodically to the door. We chat as they dress themselves for the cold – hats, coats, and scarves. We hug each of them goodbye. As the heavy door shuts behind the last guest, V and I settle onto the couch, in front of the fire, to watch the 4th quarter of the Cowboys Game. We’re in a new place, with new friends, but celebrated the day with even older traditions.    

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