It’s known as “Orange Madness”, the wearing of the Dutch National Color to celebrate what, until this year, was the long-held tradition of “Queen’s Day”, the national holiday of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, since 1890. Queen’s Day has always been held on the 30th of April in that Nation.
But, on April 30, 2013, the Dutch citizenry ceremoniously welcomed 46 year old King Willem Alexander to the throne, necessitating the change to “King’s Day” this year.
As it has for the past 45 years, the Dutch Heritage celebration, Holland Happening takes place this year in Oak Harbor, Washington, closely paralleling the holiday activities simultaneously being enjoyed both in the native land as well as in several other locations in the United States, home to approximately 5 million Dutch-Americans.
For many, their family’s United States citizenship began in the late 19th Century. Holland, Michigan which received a great influx of Dutch immigrants is site of one of the largest and best known celebrations, and holds the largest Tulip Festival in the U.S. each year in May. Other U.S. locations celebrating Dutch traditions include New York, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, California and both Lynden and Oak Harbor, Washington.
Long-time resident of Oak Harbor, Janette (van Slageren) Ellis, of Dutch Descent, was one of the original Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce members who planned the first Holland Happening event 45 years ago. Several features of the Holland, Michigan festival were woven into that early event.
Jan, as she’s known locally, remembers, “There were eighteen of us, we were members of a committee in the Chamber called the Retail Trade Committee. In 1970, we agreed to plan and implement the first local Holland Happening parade in honor of the Dutch culture, though we had little experience planning events of that scope. We held it on a Monday, but few people came out to watch. So, we held it again on the following Saturday, and had quite a crowd. I walked down the street playing my accordian, dressed in full Dutch costume, including the wooden shoes or ‘Klompen’ as they’re called in the Dutch language. People enjoyed it, and it grew into the annual event that it is today.”
Twice, over the years, Janette fulfilled the role of Grand Marshall. She has never missed a Holland Happening Parade and will be part of it this year, as well. Many more activities have been added since those early years, and the event now encompasses an entire weekend; April 25th through 27th this year. Activities suiting every member of the family are available, from the carnival, the Klompen Canal races, dancing, a range of musical events, to the ever-popular traditional Dutch and other food choices. Not to mention the vibrant street fair.
In the Old Country tradition booths are manned by families selling their no longer needed household goods and miscellaneous items. Their government has for years offered citizens the opportunity to sell their items at “Flea Markets”, called “vrijmarkts” in the Dutch language. Doing so on that holiday exempts them from owing the country’s VAT (Value Added Tax). However, visitors to this year’s street fair in Oak Harbor, Washington will be treated to a variety of vendors offering brand new Dutch influenced arts and crafts, souvenirs, artwork, and specialty food products.
The Holland Happening Parade follows a route through historic downtown Oak Harbor. It features participants dressed in authentic Dutch costumes, beautiful unique floats and marching groups representing the diverse population of the city, which since 1942 has been the proud home of NAS Whidbey Naval Air Station.
Janette Ellis explained, “The parades traditionally begin with Dutch street sweepers cleaning the street just prior to the Town Crier’s announcing the presence of the city’s mayor and city council members and proclaiming ‘let the parade begin’ . . . in both English and in the Dutch languages.”
A popular highlight of the event is the Dutch dinner held at the First Reformed Church, prepared this year by the high-achieving Oak Harbor High School Culinary Club. The meals will feature authentic Dutch recipes. The Oak Harbor Lions Club salmon barbecue, held at the site of the Farmer’s Market adjacent to the Chamber of Commerce building in Oak Harbor, helps to fund their project to supply glasses and hearing aids to those in need.
The festivities include a dance group, live music from several area bands, the Would Be Players from Whidbey Playhouse and two stages; including the new Storytime Stage. These activities are representative of the Old World customs, as well. Many Holland Happening event attendees arrive following a visit to the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, in the neighboring county which takes place throughout the month of April.
In 1978, the first commemorative tile of the event was introduced. The tiles are white and feature Dutch motifs in Dutch Blue representing each year of the festival. They’re offered for sale through the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce.
Kathy Reed, Director of the Greater Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce, said that based upon past experience with events like this, “We can expect to host about 5,000 visitors, and naturally, this benefits our local businesses. We encourage visitors to explore our unique shops, and visit vendors participating in the street fair.”
The City of Oak Harbor is located on the north end of Whidbey Island in Washington State. The City hosts a number of community-wide events each year, including its wildly popular and highly anticipated patriotic Old Fashioned 4th of July Parade and fireworks display. It can be reached by car via the historic Deception Pass Bridge, a popular tourist attraction. The island is served by the Washington State Ferry system, as well. For boating enthusiasts, Oak Harbor maintains a convenient and well equipped marina within walking distance of downtown shops, parks and activities. Updated information about area events and activities, accommodations, and maps and directions are available at the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce website, http://www.oakharborchamber.com.