Arts, Culture & Media

Geo Answer

Thanksgiving is your first clue for today's Geo Quiz.

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We think of Thanksgiving as the most American of holidays. But some people outside the United States stake claim to the holiday as well.

We're looking for the name of a Dutch city that also observes a Thanksgiving Day today.

In fact, this place has a strong connection to the Pilgrims who landed in America. You see, the Pilgrims didn't take a direct route to their final destination. They first came to this city.

To do so, they took to the seas and headed east from England. But not very far. The city we're looking for is less than 200 nautical miles from Ipswich.

The Pilgrims stayed in the Netherlands for 11 years before sailing across the Atlantic.

Which city was their temporary home?

The answer for today's Geo Quiz is Leiden, in the Netherlands. Emily Kopp investigates its connection to Thanksgiving.

Pilgrim Museum displayPilgrim Museum display

The Thanksgiving Day service in Leiden's 15th century gothic church is one of Europe's largest. Boys dress up in stockings and breeches. Girls wear black dresses with white aprons. Everyone sings American hymns. The mayor and a descendant of a Mayflower passenger each give a little speech. Coordinator Roberta Enschede says Thanksgiving is rooted in Leiden's cobblestone streets.

Roberta Enschede at churchRoberta Enschede at church

Enschede: When people come to Holland, they go to Amsterdam. American people, the first place they come to should be Leiden. They should come to this church, they should walk these streets. They should see these sights because I really believe this is where the roots of our nation are, in this country.

The Pilgrims arrived in Leiden in 1609, after fleeing religious persecution in England. Leiden welcomed them because it needed immigrants to help rebuild its textile industry, which had been devastated by a long revolt against Spain. Here, the Pilgrims were allowed to worship as they wanted, and they even published their arguments calling for the separation of church and state. Jeremy Bangs directs the Leiden American Pilgrim Museum. He says the Pilgrims quickly adopted several Dutch customs, like civil marriage and Thanksgiving.

Bangs: Thanksgivings were for all sorts of kinds of events, including military victories. In Leiden, there was a Thanksgiving, still is, for the relief of the siege on the third of October, which happens to correspond with harvest festivals generally.

Entrance to the Pilgrim MuseumEntrance to the Pilgrim Museum

October third is still the biggest holiday in Leiden. It commemorates the day in 1574, when the Dutch finally chased the Spanish out of town. People celebrate by eating bread and herring, and throwing a huge street party. When the Pilgrims held their first Thanksgiving in America, Bangs says, they combined some of what they had experienced in Leiden?such as the games and military exercises?with what they thought a holier Thanksgiving should have. Bangs says they found inspiration in the Old Testament.

Bangs: And in the Bible, there's a description of what to do at a Harvest festival, the feast of Tabernacle or Sukkot. That is that one should have it for about a week and invited all the strangers within the boundaries, so this accounts for the Pilgrims inviting the Indians.

Bergen Street in LeidenBergen Street in Leiden

The Pilgrims might never have had that American Thanksgiving, however, if Leiden had remained tolerant of religious dissenters. But by 1619, the Pilgrims had reason to worry. Holland had agreed to give England control of all the English reform churches on Dutch soil?including the Pilgrims' church?in exchange for military aid against Spain. The Pilgrims decided it was time to leave. Within two years, many of them made the trans-Atlantic voyage to the American Colonies. Now, nearly 16 generations later, some of their descendants come back to Leiden, especially at this time of year.

Californian Patricia Thomas is visiting the museum. She has traced her family roots back to a Mayflower Pilgrim named Fuller.

Thomas: It's kind of interesting to come here to try to see where these people came from and understand the reason why they left Europe and why they would go to a country they knew nothing about and try to settle, re-establish, colonize, whatever. Had to be a rather frightening experience to leave something you know and go into something that's totally unknown.

Americans in search of their family roots have been visiting Leiden for centuries. John and Abigail Adams wrote about their trip in the late 1700s. They came to see what one of the original Pilgrims and Plymouth Colony Governor, William Bradford, called a ?fair and beautiful city.?

For The World, I'm Emily Kopp in Leiden, Netherlands.