Thanksgiving is an iconic American holiday, so why would it be celebrated in Holland? Turns out the Pilgrims had an 11-year layover in the Netherlands on their way to America. Here, an American ex-pat living in the Netherlands shares the history of the Pilgrims and Thanksgiving in Holland.

Pieterskerk in Leiden celebrates Thanksgiving in Holland.

Pieterskerk in Leiden. Photo: Wikipedia

Why Thanksgiving is Celebrated in the Netherlands

After the pilgrims left England to escape the established Anglican Church, and before they landed on Plymouth Rock, they arrived in Leiden, the Netherlands where they lived for 11 years.

Thanksgiving holds a special significance for the Dutch and every year in Leiden, the annual Thanksgiving Day Service at the historic Pieterskerk in Leiden is a celebration of the history of the pilgrims and their connection to Holland. The pilgrims recorded their births, marriages and deaths in the Pieterskerk, and lived in the surrounding neighborhoods during their time in Leiden.

The non-denominational service combines a civil ceremony with a Service of Thanksgiving. Each year, the mayor of Leiden attends and addressed the congregation. A representative of the United States delivers the President’s annual Thanksgiving Day Proclamation.

American Pilgrim Museum in the Netherlands. Photo: Wikipedia

American Pilgrim Museum in the Netherlands. Photo: Wikipedia

Learn More About the History of the Pilgrims in the Netherlands

Also in Leiden is the American Pilgrim Museum. Furnishings from Pilgrim times and 16th and 17th century maps and engravings are all used to tell the history of the pilgrims. The exhibition also shows how living in the Netherlands for 12 years influenced the pilgrims and how these influences in turn became a part of American culture, including the establishment of the civil marriage registration and the separation of church and state.

This influence is still apparent today as no fewer than nine American presidents, including President Obama, are descendants of a Leiden Pilgrim.