Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce leaders learned that a tulip called by another name may not smell as sweet.
News that the chamber is changing the name of the 51-year-old Holland Happening event to “Spring Festival” upset many in the community and spawned two petition efforts to quash the change.
Chamber leaders should listen to the community on this one. However, it’s also incumbent on those bemoaning the name change to step up and help bring some of “Holland” back to Holland Happening.
Perhaps this controversy will spark more public interest and engagement in the event.
“Spring Festival” is pretty mundane and reeks of becoming the big-box store of festivals. Nonspecific, something for everyone, nothing new or challenging. The name has no special meaning to Oak Harbor and recalls no traditions.
The problem, though, is that Holland Happening has evolved into something close to a generic spring festival. Ten years ago, the popular Dutch dinner held by the First Reformed Church was canceled because the longtime organizer could no longer do it, and no one took her place. Oak Harbor children are growing up without the taste of oliebollen, erwtensoep and hutspot.
Once upon a time, so many leading citizens in Oak Harbor had ancestry traced back to the Netherlands that they were referred to as the “Dutch Mafia.” They helped make Holland Happening a true celebration of Dutch heritage in a fun and inviting way.
Most of those people are no longer around. Festival organizers struggled to maintain the Dutch traditions. Some people who traveled to Oak Harbor for a Dutch-themed celebration were disappointed to find a scatter-shot festival with the usual carnival rides, pizza and ice cream, arts and crafts.
Thankfully, the Klompen shoe races, parade marchers dressed in old-fashioned Dutch garb and tulips galore continue as part of the festival.
Perhaps the change was inevitable. The demographics aren’t the same. Oak Harbor isn’t a city that dwells on its heritage, but values progress and utilitarianism. Many historic structures have been razed, including the iconic windmill in Windjammer Park. There are only vague plans to rebuild it “someday.”
Holland Happening is a festival that brings together the community, and a disagreement over a name shouldn’t change that.
For now, keep the old name and work to enliven the Dutch aspects of the festival, all while embracing the quirkiness of a unique Oak Harbor event.