West Michigan was settled by many Dutch settlers back in the 1800s, so we’ve got cities and counties called “Holland” “Zeeland” and “Van Buren.” The area has celebrated their ancestry ever since, with their annual Tulip Festival, and this year, I decided I’d go. I was expecting this festival to be as unauthentic as fajitas are to Mexico, but I love fajitas, and, anyway, I’d welcome a Dutch-fix of any kind. No matter how tacky vaguely cultural festivals can be, a field of colorful tulips with a classic windmill in the distance is a sight to see.
And with a Dutch festival so near to me, how could I not go. I didn’t know what to expect in terms of experiencing Dutch culture, food, and architecture, but whatever I got would be good enough. Surprisingly, my family was willing to drive the 3 hours west with me, and we made a day of it. First, the Dutch buffet at The Queen’s Inn. Stampot, mini sausage rolls, Indonesian satay chicken skewers, Dutch apple pie and more. It was exactly as good as I expected – equal in authenticity as Chinese buffets are to actual Chinese food. To be clear, I am neither insulting nor complementing this buffet. It was a good time with my family, and therefore, I liked it just fine. Next we walked around the free part of the Dutch Village, with souvenir shops selling wooden shoes and classy delft products.
The part of the Dutch Village you paid for was mainly for young families, as it had carousels, windmill mini golf and cotton candy vendors. I would have enjoyed it for it’s little canals and crossroad ‘street’ signs saying “Bruggestraat” and “Kleinestraat,” but I would have had conflicted emotions upon realizing I’d spent money to see this:
Next on our to-see list was the Art Fair, so we headed to Centennial Park, which commemorated the centennial birthday of Holland, MI. It was nice strolling up and down the crisscrossing sidewalks of the fair, and just as we were as fulfilled as we were going to be from the fair, the Dutch dancing started. Dutch dancers of all ages, dressed in colorful, traditional costumes, filled the entire road – we couldn’t see either end!
I enjoyed the dancing – it was fun and I loved the sound the wooden shoes made as they danced and stomped on the cement. My brother said he overheard an actual Dutchman, from the Netherlands, saying that he’d never seen anything at all like this before. We concluded that everything that Holland, Michigan celebrates immortalizes what Holland culture had been in the mid 19th century, when the Dutch settlers had come to Michigan, and is as disconnected with modern Dutch culture as, being honest, the rest of America is. It was now time for an early-evening drink, so we headed, by foot, to downtown Holland. On our way, I was telling my family about my wishes that the festival had been even more Dutch – with more Dutch food, Dutch art, bicycles, or at least the popular vendor treat, “Olie bollen” or filled donuts – when my Dad was like, “What, like those?” And he pointed to an Olie bollen stand! It was the one Dutch food vendor that I’d seen yet! Peculiarly translated to “Fat Balls”, my Dad said he’d never let me live down buying one of these. I wasn’t ashamed at buying a Dutch apple “Fat Ball” in the least, but I did ask my Dad to forgive my spending $5 for it.
I can’t say the festival had no Dutch food, just very little. There was a grocery store in the Dutch Village that sold pannenkoeken, poffertjes and Olie bollen mixes, and even sold a poffertjes pan for the reasonable price of $39.95.
All in all, the day was a success, and we all had a great time! Even the total of 6 hours driving didn’t seem long at all. Michigan’s agricultural landscape can be very appealing to stare out at, especially in the evening sun. I’d brought Tina Fey’s audiobook “Bossypants” and for the last hour of the trip, we listened to the chapter on her experience portraying Sarah Palin, which we all enjoyed. So we had our faux-Dutch experience. Tomorrow, we’ll have our faux-Mexican experience – Cinco de Mayo and my mom’s birthday!