This Southwest Michigan City Becomes a Multicultural Wonderland for the Holidays
A centuries-old windmill spins proudly above Holland, Michigan. Thousands of tulips bloom each spring, and at Christmas, Sinterklaas parades through the streets. Need a wreath or a car? Stop by VanWieren Hardware or Van Dam Auto Sales. (For clogs, head to the DeKlomp Wooden Shoe and Delft Factory.) Dutch heritage runs deep in this Lake Michigan city, founded in 1847 by immigrants fleeing religious persecution in the Netherlands. In fact, well into the 20th century, most residents could still claim Dutch ancestry—but that's evolving.
Yadah Ramirez has borne witness to the transformation. Her mother is from Mexico, and her father is a third-generation American whose family put down roots in Michigan as migrant workers. Families like hers were few in her neighborhood in the 1990s, but by 2020, the area was 24 percent Hispanic. Many new arrivals came for stable work in the area's agricultural fields and food processing plants.
"Growing up, I saw more and more Hispanics and Latinos move in," says Ramirez, who is programs director of the nonprofit Latin Americans United for Progress (LAUP). Her organization hosts events like LAUP's annual spring Fiesta! each May. "The community was changing, looking like us."
During the holidays, Ramirez and her family gather to make tamales, a tradition for many Mexican families. "It's a time to reflect on the year, while you're making the masa, you're shucking the corn, you're stirring, you're kneading the dough and making the fillings," Ramirez says. "You're talking about how the year went and bonding. It's a tradition of passing [the culture] down."
Of course, that's something Holland has perfected over the past century and a half—preserving customs across generations and sharing them with others. Christmas here, for example, includes a popular outdoor holiday market, Kerstmarkt, with European crafts, artist demos and Dutch treats. But now you can also participate in Las Posadas, a traditional Mexican Christmas worship festival hosted by a local church, or attend Kwanzaa celebrations that began in the 1990s and have become a community event. (The Black population has grown in Holland too, though not so dramatically, accounting for 4.5 percent of the city's 34,000 residents.)
"Holland has come a long way in saying to communities that have cultures other than Dutch that, 'We see you,'" Ramirez says. "And 'Let's celebrate that as a community together.'"
Learn how three communities celebrate the holidays in Holland.
Holland's annual Kwanzaa event includes food, music and dance performances. Observed December 26–January 1, Kwanzaa honors
African American culture and Imani (faith in God, self, ancestors and community). Each of the seven days focuses on one of the seven core principles of Kwanzaa.
Las Posadas ("The Inns" in Spanish) is a religious festival celebrated December 16–24. The nine-day novena (worship) commemorates Joseph
and Mary's journey to Bethlehem. St. Francis de Sales Church hosts a Posada procession with traditional songs and treats for kids, including piñatas.
Holland transforms into a Dutch holiday landscape from November to January, featuring the Parade of Lights
(November 30); a visit from Sinterklaas, the Dutch St. Nicholas; and the European open-air Kerstmarkt.
Top Things to Do in Holland, Michigan, this Holiday Season
For a taste of Mexican traditions, head to Mi Favorita for top-notch tacos (or on the weekends, order the posole, a pork and hominy stew). Tamales are a holiday must for Mexican families; find both sweet and savory versions at Taco Fiesta. Other good eats: Mizu Sushi boasts a diverse menu of popular Asian entrees like Korean bibimbap or Thai massaman curry. Cold weather doesn't shut down the heated patio at The Curragh Irish Pub and restaurant if you want to brave the elements to enjoy fish and chips or shepherd's pie. Fuel up with a coffee or kick back with a creative cocktail at The 205 Coffee Bar, where the croiffles (a croissant-waffle mash-up) come in flavors like strawberry with Nutella or smoked salmon. At DeBoer Bakery, try the Dutch Currant, an old-fashioned white bread packed with currants, or Tijgerbrood, a slightly sweet bread with a crispy rice-flour crust.
This year, city leaders loosened rules to make downtown Holland a social district—so you can sip adult beverages while shopping. The area has lovely Victorian architecture and some 200 businesses. Grab a beer (some of the state's best) at New Holland Brewing or Our Brewing Company. Browse for art at Lake Effect Gallery or books at Reader's World. Pick up some sweet stocking stuffers—like homemade chocolates or roasted nuts—at Holland Peanut Store. When you're ready to warm up, catch a flick at Sperry's Moviehouse, a boutique theater that also serves food. If you luck into some early-winter snow, go sledding at Van Raalte Farm Park, cross-country skiing at Pigeon Creek Park, or hiking along the sand at Holland State Park for views of Lake Michigan. Some hardy locals even take out stand-up paddleboards in winter for frosty floats among icy formations in the lake.
Accommodations on a college campus may evoke images of dorms and bunk beds, but the Haworth Hotel at Hope College is anything but a coed crash pad. A massive face-lift by renowned architect Patricia Urquiola, who helped to design Vogue's headquarters in Milan, recently gave the 20-year-old property a modern European aesthetic. For cozy holiday vibes, several Airbnbs ooze historic Holland charm, such as the Cobblestone Cottage, an 1895 Victorian house in downtown.