Growing up we always celebrated Thanksgiving, but it was a pretty low-key affair. We didn’t live near any extended family so it was typically just my parents, my siblings and I. After attending church we’d enjoy the typical feast of turkey, mashed potatoes, and the rest of the good stuff.
I think it was after I got married that things took a turn toward the non-traditional (as in “you never know what you’re gonna get.”) One year we ate at a truck stop, en route to my Grandma’s funeral. Another year I spent the day with a dear friend who had suffered a great loss, and we spent the day painting a bedroom. We spent Thanksgiving in the hospital once, when our older son had pneumonia. We’ve had years where we have celebrated with extended family and years where we have celebrated with our Air Force family.
Things have gotten weirder since we moved to Germany since Thanksgiving is not a holiday here. Our first year Thanksgiving was a non-event. Last year we hosted a houseful for a Thanksgiving feast. This year we did something completely different.
I recruited my friend Rachel for our adventure. She is my ideal travel partner – always well prepared and game for anything. I excused my kids from school and the six of us (two moms and four boys – our husbands were indisposed) headed by train to Leiden, Netherlands. (Yes, the kids had school on Thanksgiving.)
Why Leiden? Little known fact: for the Pilgrims, America was actually “plan B.” They first sought religious freedom by moving from England to the Netherlands, specifically Leiden, and they lived here from 1609 until 1620. I’d been to Leiden before (read about it here and here) and this time we were there for the big event: The annual Thanksgiving Day service, sponsored by AOR (Americans Overseas Remember), a group of expatriates living in the area.
The event was held at the Pieterskerk, an impressive building. There is a subtle connection between the Pilgrims and the church. Their pastor, John Robinson, was buried here, but they did not attend this church. They were separatists, so they weren’t actually members of this church – they met at the nearby home of Rev. Robinson.
When we entered the church the organist was playing the prelude. The sound was fantastic! Not only were the acoustics impressive and the organist quite talented, it just brought me back to the traditional church services of my youth. Sigh.
The first part of the service was quite patriotic. The colors were posted by a local Boy Scout troop and we said the Pledge of Allegiance. A representative from the Mayor’s office spoke, as did a descendant of one of the pilgrims (Moses Fletcher) and the Charge d’Affaires of the U.S. Embassy. “My Country ‘Tis Of Thee,” “God Bless America,” and “America the Beautiful” were all sung. It was delightful.
The second part of the service was an ecumenical worship service, with Scripture, hymns, a litany, and music performed by students from the American School of the Hague. It brought me great joy to sing “We Gather Together,” which is a Dutch Hymn from 1597.
It is interesting to note that in his 1861 proclamation Abraham Lincoln encouraged such gatherings such as this. The proclamation reads, “I invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and those who are sojourning in foreign lands to set apart the last Thursday next of November as a day of Thanksgiving.”
There was a reception with cookies and coffee afterwards, and after a few photos we headed to find some lunch.
We stumbled upon a little cafe and enjoyed handmade pasta for lunch. My boys had pizza and no one seemed to mind that we weren’t eating Turkey (especially us Moms, who were quite pleased that they didn’t have to wash any dishes!)
A Thanksgiving visit to Leiden wouldn’t be complete without stopping at the Pilgrim Museum. This quaint little establishment run by a gentleman who is a fount of knowledge of all things Pilgrim. The building it is in is one of the oldest buildings in the city, dating from the 1300s. They do have evidence that one particular Pilgrim traveller, William Brewster, once was in this building, but aside from that it is really just a collection of old stuff dating from the Pilgrim era.
I was particularly thankful that admission was free since it was Thanksgiving.
The boys tried on hats that were similar to what the Pilgrim children wore. The design was based on a very old hat (that we did see), circa 1500, that was found at the bottom of a canal.
We wandered back the train station and admired this picturesque little city.
To put it mildly, the train trip back was a bit of a mess. We had no problems getting from Leiden to Schiphol, where we were supposed to get a connection directly to the station where we’d left the car. However, there was an “incident” and part of the track was closed, so after waiting an hour we decided to take a different route. While on that train there was another “incident” and we were informed that the train would stop approximately 45 minutes away from our desired destination and would go no further.
Our evening then consisted of crowded trains, lots of waiting, children who needed a restroom at inconvenient times, lots more waiting, regret that we do not speak Dutch, lots of time on electronics for kids, and the kindness of a few strangers who helped us understand exactly what was going on. The end result was that we, along with hundreds of other people, were at a train station about 45 minutes away at 8:00 at night with very tired kids and no sure way of returning home anytime soon. We were blessed to rescued by my dear neighbor, who was so kind to venture out to late at night to an unfamiliar place and pick us up.
This Thanksgiving may not have been typical, but it reminds me once again what to be thankful for – good friends; the providence of our loving God, and the adventure and privilege of living in Germany. Happy Thanksgiving!