The Dutch Connection to Thanksgiving

Old Greensboro

Happy Thanksgiving to all who celebrate, and happy Thursday to those who don’t. Regardless of your nationality, it’s always nice to take a moment to think about the good things in your life and be thankful for them, be they big or small. It’s a nice reminder when things aren’t always going so well.

Although Thanksgiving is seen primarily as a North American holiday (our Canadian neighbors to the north celebrate a few weeks before we do in the US), there still is a Dutch connection to the holiday. In fact, the Pilgrims spent approximately 12 years in the Netherlands, around Leiden, before actually heading to the new world. There’s even a Pilgrim museum in Leiden, which gives a bit of history on their time there, and includes information about the origins of the Thanksgiving celebration, which may have begun during their time in the Netherlands. As mentioned in Wikipedia, “According to historian Jeremy Bangs, director of the Leiden American Pilgrim Museum, the Pilgrims may have been influenced by watching the annual services of Thanksgiving for the relief of the siege of Leiden in 1574, while they were staying in Leiden.”

I’d be interested in visiting the museum someday. As the website says, the museum aims to present the reality behind the Pilgrim myth. Part of the myth seems to be that they went straight from England to the Americas. I’m pretty sure I didn’t learn anything about a stopover in the Netherlands when I was in school and learning about the pilgrims.

I guess I’m thankful for the opportunity to continue to learn, both about my home country and my adopted homeland. The fact that the two countries have been so intertwined for centuries makes things even more interesting.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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25 thoughts on “The Dutch Connection to Thanksgiving

    • I think I learned about it when we had some Dutch friends over for our first Thanksgiving here. That might have been when I first learned about the Pilgrims coming to the Netherlands.

  1. The Pilgrims went to exile in the Netherlands, it wasn’t just a “stop over” on their way to the North American continent. I’m also not sure about the fact that they could’ve started the tradition… I learned that they celebrated because, after their harvest failed at first, the native Americans had helped them cultivate. It was a feast for both the settlers and the native Americans.

    • Sorry, I was being a bit facetious when I called it a stopover. ๐Ÿ˜‰ As for the origins, I think they may have been inspired by thanksgiving services they experienced in the Netherlands, and then incorporated that into their lives in the New World, particularly as a result of the state of the crops that first year. The more I read, the more variations I come across on the actual history.

      • I have to apologize as well, I was in my American Studies-student-mode ๐Ÿ˜‰ That’s also why I should probably check out that museum in Leiden as well at some point!

  2. I was just reading that Wikipedia article the other day. I knew the Pilgrims lived in the Netherlands, but I had no clue it was for that long. I think it would be very interesting to visit that museum.

  3. Happy belated thanksgiving, Alison.

    Since we moved to Austin and I have something to be thankful for, I’ve started to enjoy Thanksgiving. Cooking a meal using strictly native American meats and vegetables and whatever the pilgrims brought along with them is fun. Still figuring out turkey-cooking, though.

    Yes, I knew that the pilgrims were in exile in Holland first, not from anything my kids learned at school, but from a movie. I forget which one. What I learned recently from my youngest’s history homework is that the Mayflower pilgrims weren’t the first British colonists. About 20 years earlier the Roanoke colonists went there, not because of religious persecution, but purely for trading reasons.

    So the argument that Christian fundamentalists have that the religiously persecuted Pilgrims were the first and that that proves that America was based on being able to freely do Christian things (read: in public schools) is false. If firsts are what counts, then the country is based on capitalism.

    • Ah, cooking a whole turkey is a bit daunting. I have numerous recipes saved, along with a long e-mail from my mother explaining how to make the various traditional dishes. I refer to it every year!

      I did know about the Roanoke group and even the Jamestown colonists, all before the Pilgrims. And as you rightly said, there is a lot wrong with the Christian fundamentalists who go on about the country being founded on Christian principles, etc. Most of their arguments are wrong, factually and historically. I got a good laugh when one of my Dutch friends described the Pilgrims as religious weirdos. It’s all a matter of perspective, so for a lot of people at the time, they were religious weirdos. ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. That’s cool! I had heard that the Pilgrims made a stop-over in Leiden (after I moved here, of course – not in school), but I didn’t know the part about them possibly getting some of the Thanksgiving traditions from their time in the Netherlands. Obviously not the turkey part though! I’ll have to make it over to check out the museum as well. Thanks for sharing and hope you had a very happy Thanksgiving!

    • Isn’t it weird that we didn’t learn this stuff in school? Especially since it’s such a part of the US’s history, and especially since they stayed here for as long as they did.

  5. Somewhere last year, when I was supposed to fly to Milan but that damned volcano threw up a spanner in the works, my friend and I went to her sister in Leiden to kill some time. We ended up walking around Leiden and passed the church with a plaque dedicated to the First Pilgrim fathers.

    The Wikipedia article also amused me, describing how they eventually felt they had to leave for the Dutch society was too liberal for their taste. ๐Ÿ˜€

  6. Reblogged this on A Flamingo in Utrecht and commented:

    Tomorrow is Thanksgiving in the US and I won’t be celebrating as I have in the past, since I’ll be working. (Take pity on me working on a “holiday” and come visit!) Since I’m usually starting the cooking today (cornbread, pecan pie), I thought I’d reblog this old post about the Dutch connection to Thanksgiving, particularly as it’s been getting a few hits in recent weeks. Also, if you’re in Utrecht and looking for baking soda or molasses, or corn meal, I recommend visiting one of the tokos in town. There’s one across from Blokker by Hoog Catherijne, and there’s a new one that has opened across from Tivoli-Vredenburg (next to a Chinese restaurant). They’re the best places to find baking soda and corn meal (I use the dry polenta). There’s an expat food shop on Steenweg, but be prepared to spend an arm and a leg on anything there. I think โ‚ฌ6+ was the going price for one can of Libby’s pumpkin purรฉe, so consider buying the frozen pumpkin pieces in the grocery store and making your own if you’re desperate and broke. Whether you’re celebrating or not, try to take a moment to think about what you have to be thankful for. It’s good to remember the positives.

  7. Really interesting – if they went into exile in the Neths were there still plans for the New World? Or did that come about in Leiden? And was the Leiden experience ie something that happened there and then, the cause of the big emigration?
    Questions, questions.

    You’ve started something now!

    • I got the impression that they weren’t necessarily planning on going further than the Netherlands, as they stayed for 12 years or so. It was when the NL started to seem too liberal and not in keeping with their own brand of religion that they made the plans to head to the new world where there was less antagonism to their brand of religion. I could be wrong, though. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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