Our Hollandse Maagds (Dutch Maids)

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Each year our little town of Pella, Iowa celebrates its Dutch heritage with the annual Tulip Time festival. At the core of this traditional celebration is the election of our Tulip Queen and her court (Our daughter, Madison, was a finalist in the contest back in her day). Our dear friend, Megan, is on the court this year, and so Wendy and I headed out last night to a packed community center auditorium to watch the Queen and her court perform the program that they will take on the road to promote our town, our festival, our heritage, (and our local businesses!).

I’m not sure that most residents in our town appreciate the way this annual tradition taps into some of the deepest sentiments of Dutch heritage. As the young republic of the Netherlands fought its revolt against Spain, one of the most powerful national patriotic metaphors emerged out of the deep sentiment the Dutch held for hearth and home: the Hollandse Maagd (Dutch Maid). Young, beautiful, and verdant, the Dutch Maid appeared with the rampant lion amidst her small fortress symbolizing the small republics small fortress state set amidst the sea and her enemies.

Hollandse Maagd 01

Later, the Dutch Maid’s fortress became a lush garden of prosperity over which she was enthroned.

willem buytewech allegory of the deceitfulness of Spain

Writes Simon Schama in The Embarrassment of Riches:

“The enclosure had by now become the verdant and well-stocked garden – the tuin – that signified the divinely blessed prosperity of the Netherlands and within the Dutch Maid, both comely and vulnerable, was now enthroned.”

The Dutch Maid even found her place on Dutch currency.

Dutch Maid Coin

I enjoyed watching last night as our local Hollandse Maagds paraded out in traditional Gronigen costume, complete with Dutch hat. The Tulip Queen and her court will metaphorically preside over our prosperous tulip gardens, lead our parades, honor our traditions, and promote our local commerce. All five of them truly are amazing, beautiful, intelligent, and talented young ladies. And, I realized last night, whether they know it or not these young ladies embody a metaphor that is more deeply entrenched in our heritage and speaks more deeply to our community psyche than most of us know or can possibly imagine.

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