Oak Harbor Chamber asks if Holland event should happen

Should Holland Happening be more Dutch, or should Oak Harbor move on and rebrand the celebration?

For more than half a century, Oak Harbor has celebrated its Dutch heritage with Holland Happening, attracting visitors from all over the island and beyond.

But to the majority of people who had gathered Jan. 30 at the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce’s building, the festival hasn’t felt Dutch in some time. Last year, someone said, “it felt like a street fair.”

Events and Logistics Manager Cheryl Grehan, who led the meeting with the community, agreed. In recent years, she saw the festival keep its name but become less and less Dutch. In fact, despite its history, Oak Harbor has lost touch with many traditions from the Netherlands, as those who kept the culture alive have passed away.

These issues led the chamber to host a meeting to ask the community an important question: Should Holland keep happening and double down on the authenticity, or should Oak Harbor move on and rebrand the celebration?

Upon seeing this question on Facebook, many users expressed their protectiveness toward Holland Happening, a sentiment that was acknowledged during the meeting. However, to keep this tradition going, the chamber needs the community to be more involved in the planning process.

“If you just sit around and complain, the few people that do put these things together will get burnt out and then we will have no events,” a user named Danielle Tomlin commented under the chamber’s post.

None of the users who wrote negative comments on Facebook showed up to the meeting, which Grehan found frustrating.

Holland Happening will return once more this spring to test how profitable authenticity can be.

This might prove difficult, Grehan said, as many vendors don’t offer Dutch products.

Shea Looijen, who owns TerraVen and is Dutch-American, said there are many Dutch things in our everyday lives, such as apple pie, chocolate and waffles, which he said shouldn’t be hard to supply. Council Member Eric Marshall, who attended the meeting, said the festival should focus on offering more Dutch things but without excluding vendors that can’t offer Dutch products.

Other ways to “Dutchify” the celebrations could involve the use of white and blue decorations and chalk to emulate delft blue tiles, using the red barns in the area, teaching participants Dutch skills such as traditional dances and host competitions, like a cheese wheel competition, in addition to the usual Klompen canal race.

Steve Schwalbe from the Rotary Club said there will be a windmill model contest, with the top three contestants receiving prizes, ribbons and certificates.

The festival will include educational storyboards and actors portraying historical Dutch figures. The chamber is also hoping to bring the only Dutch wooden shoe maker in the country, who lives in Wisconsin.

Wesley Moran, the 2023 Town Crier and Whidbey News-Times multimedia sales consultant, suggested a series of festivals celebrating different cultures in the city, not only Dutch, as some have pointed out the presence of other heritages.

This series would culminate with a holiday event at the end of the year that would feature holiday celebrations from all the different cultures. A possible name for this big event, Grehan said, could be “Jingle Bell Junction.”

Currently, the chamber is inviting the community to sign up for its Holland Happening committees, which include the education committee, the advertising committee, the kids’ zone committee and the decorating committee. For more information, contact Cheryl Grehan at 360-675-3755 or events@OakHarborChamber.com. Later on, people can register to volunteer the day of the festival.

Grehan encourages the community to come out.

“We gotta keep the cheese roll rollin’.”

file photo