Holland, Michigan takes its Dutch roots seriously, including during the holiday season at the annual Dutch Winterfest, where Sinterklaas is as popular as Santa and the Kerstmarkt, or Christmas market, can be as popular for shopping as the many stores in the lovely historic downtown.
One of the first of many holiday events in Holland, the Kerstmarkt begins on Nov. 20 and runs each weekend until Dec. 11. The market, a mélange of vendor booths based on a design used in Nuremburg back in the 1500s, focuses on local artisan goods. Visitors can choose from a wide range of wares, such as bonsai trees, catnip plants, bulbs, holly, holiday-style greenery, wreaths, hand-carved wooden toys and European-style gifts.
Two Bears Trading Co. has fur mittens, hats, bags, caribou hides and sheepskin rugs for sale, Flagel’s Sugar House, which produces maple syrup and candies, and St. Steve’s Cordials & Sodas/Mud Lake Farm features farm-crafted cordials made with plants grown on Mud Lake Farm, such as ginger, elderflower, elderberry and chamomile, along with candied ginger and teas. Eet Smakelijk Food (Eet Smakelijk translates to Enjoy Your Meal) includes such traditional Dutch foods as saucijzebroodjes (pigs in a blanket), erwtensoep (pea soup) and Dutch pastries like banketstaaf, a traditional holiday pastry made with almonds, and windmill cookies.
Those visiting the Kerstmarkt on Saturdays should wander over to the award winning Holland Farmers Market next door, open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
“Also, the Kerstmarkt is near the west end of 8th Street, the main downtown street in Holland," said Lona Bronkema, who with her husband Mike is a vendor at the Kerstmarkt. "Downtown Holland is a beautiful treat, with unique shops, pubs, restaurants and hotels, and there’s free on-site parking available at the Kerstmarkt and throughout downtown Holland."
The couple owns Shady Side Farm, a USDA Organic Certified farm where they raise grass-fed beef and lamb as well as beans and organic corn milled into grits and cornmeal. They use the high-quality wool from their Polypay sheep to create yarn, socks, mittens, hats and scarves, and also sell handwoven rag rugs.
Also on Nov. 20, the city’s downtown is hosting its annual open house, complete with carolers, decorated store fronts, the opportunity to have photos taken with Santa and his reindeer, and, of course, serious shopping.
Larry and Carla Sue, the name of a popular local handbell duo, are performing at Kerstmarkt on two Fridays — Nov. 26 from 3 to 5 p.m. and Dec. 10 from 5 to 7 p.m.
On Nov. 30, Santa leads the Parade of Lights, a well-deserved name given that the 75 antique cars, floats, and trucks, as well as the marching bands and those walking in the procession, are illuminated by thousands of dazzling lights. The parade starts at the corner of 8th Street and Columbia Avenue and ends, naturally, at the Kerstmarkt.
Since Santa has his day (or should we say night), it’s only fair that Sinterklaas, known in the Netherlands as the original St. Nicholas, gets to shine as well on Dec. 3 for the celebration of Sinterklaas Eve. It all starts with paper lantern making at the Holland Arts Council at 150 W. 8th St.
For those who want to skip the craft making, 300 pre-made lanterns will be distributed to children on a first-come, first-served basis the center. In keeping with the Dutch tradition, the lanterns are carried by those accompanying Sinterklaas. Worried about not knowing who he is? Don’t, as Sinterklaas is very noticeable dressed in garb that includes the tall and pointed red and gold mitre hat perched on his head, the gold scepter he holds in his hand, and the red flowing cloak edged with yellow fringe on the sleeves. He also has a beard that is as long and white as any Santa can boast.
While Santa rides in his sleigh pulled by reindeer, Sinterklaas rides a white horse in a procession through the city streets. Following that, there’s the opportunity to take photos with Sinterklaas.
The Holland Symphony Orchestra is presenting its "Home for the Holidays" concerts at 3:30 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 11 at the Dimnent Chapel on the Hope College campus.
For those wanting to go deep on all things Dutch, consider a pair of wooden shoes — yes, shoes made out of wood are available for sale in Holland. You can watch klompen being made by a shoemaker specially certified in the craft in the Netherlands. Choose your colors, patterns and even have your name or a saying engraved to make the klompen uniquely your own. Sizes range from doll size to adult 14. For comfort, we suggest buying a size larger because you’ll want to wear several layers of socks. deKlomp is also the only Delft production facility in North America, offering more than 400 different hand-painted Dutch pottery items made on site by artisans trained in this century old technique.
If, after attending Kerstmarkt, you’ve developed a passion for Dutch food (don’t laugh, it could happen), a must is the fifth generation family run deBoer Bakkerij (bakery to you and me) with two locations in the city. The bakery and café make an assortment of pastries such as bacon jam bialys and pecan sticky buns. It also bakes breads such as Tijgerbrood, a soft and slightly sweet bread with a crispy crust; Bruin Brood, whole wheat sweetened with molasses and rolled in oats; Dutch almond bread, with a center filled with almond paste, and their sugar bread, an egg bread chopped with sugar cubes and a cinnamon smear.
Other items are their Saucizenbroodjes — house Dutch-spice seasoned pork sausage rolled in a buttery flaky puff dough and Klompen cakes. Want to go all out, try "A Taste of the Old Country," a combo plate loaded with an assortment including a croquette, pig-in-the-blanket, pea soup, a slice of Dutch mild gouda cheese, and bakery bread.
If you’re wondering what’s so Dutch about Holland besides the name, here’s a brief history. The first of a vast wave of immigrants from the Netherlands arrived in West Michigan in 1847, escaping religious persecution. Nearby Grand Rapids also has a large Dutch population as does Zeeland, a city next to Holland. Now, only about 30% of Holland’s population is of Dutch heritage but the traditions still hold firm and are part of its charm.