Dutch Winter Fest in Holland, Michigan: Celebrations with Old-World Charm

If you're looking for a delightful way to usher in the holidays, consider going Dutch — as in Dutch WinterFest.

Held each year here in Holland, Michigan, it celebrates the season with colorful pageantry and old-world charm.

Holland was founded by Dutch settlers in 1847, and its streetscapes reflect their Netherlands heritage, with stepped gable roofs, brick walkways and inlaid tile over doors and windows.

In addition, Holland has a historic working windmill and factories that produce wooden shoes and famous porcelain delftware, a Dutch tradition since the 13th century.

One of my favorite events--the colorful European Lantern Parade. Children accompany Santa Claus into Centennial Park while carrying glowing lanterns imported from the Netherlands. As the townspeople look on, Santa switch- es on a dazzling holiday light display.

On Sinterklaas Eve (Dec. 1), everyone returns to the park to sing carols while waiting for Sinterklaas, the Dutch St. Nicholas. He makes a grand entrance on a white horse, surrounded by his playful Zwarte Piet helpers. European-Style Shopping

One of the festival's most popular attractions is the Kerstmarkt, a replica of an actual open-air, turn-of-the-century European market. Wooden booths line Centennial Park's winding brick pathways, recalling a time when it was the city's central marketplace.

I especially like the Kerstmarkt at night, when seasonal music wafts through the air and lights twinkle from every tree and lamppost. Vendors offer hot drinks, holiday foods and European gifts.

If you don't finish your holiday shopping at the Kerstmarkt, then browse through more than 100 downtown shops and galleries--and notice the warm sidewalks. Yes, the sidewalks are warm in winter! An underground heating system keeps streets and sidewalks clear of snow and ice.

Shoppers should save time for the free tours at the DeKlomp Wooden Shoe and Delft Factory, located north of downtown at Veldheer's Tulip Gardens, 12755 Quincy. The craftsmen here still carve some shoes by hand and produce the others with machines from the Netherlands. In the Delft Factory, artisans will chat with you as they mold and hand-paint the well-known blue and white porcelain. This is the only delftware factory in the United States.

History's in Season, Too

No visit to Holland would be complete without seeing "DeZwaan", or "The Swan", the only authentic Dutch windmill operating in the United States. The Swan is 278 years old and was the last windmill exported from the Netherlands. It was dismantled, then shipped here and rebuilt.

This imposing 12-story windmill has 40-foot sails and still grinds flour. You'll find it on scenic Windmill Island, 2 minutes north of downtown. But it's only open from May through mid-October.

Another landmark, a striking lighthouse known as "Big Red", is visible from the north side of the Lake Macatawa channel in Holland State Park. For a closer look, park at the end of South Shore Drive and hike a half mile to the breakwater.

Just north of town on U.S. Highway 31, you'll find the Dutch Village, a theme park depicting Dutch life from a century ago. The park is closed in winter, but its specialty shops are open year-round. The Dutch buildings are outlined with 75,000 lights.

Once you've seen what Holland has to offer in winter, you may want to return for the Tulip Time Festival in Spring. The city is ablaze with color from millions of tulip blossoms — I guarantee it's worth seeing!

When You Visit

Holland is on U.S. Highway 31 in southwestern Michigan, about 25 miles southwest of Grand Rapids and just north of I-196. Special WinterFest hotel packages are available. For details, contact the Holland Area Convention and Visitors Bureau at 1-800-506-1299.

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