Friends in the Netherlands

The Netherlands means Low Lands. This country, often called Holland, is small in land area but large in achievements. It is located on the North Sea and borders Belgium on the south and Germany on the east. An old saying there, which in a sense is quite true, is: “God created the world, but the Dutch made Holland.”

Many of the homes in Holland are built below sea level. The first people there settled only on high parts of the land, but soon there were no high spots left, and so they moved into the swampy sections where they built terpens (mounds similar to those beavers build) above the highwater level. There the tides would stir up the silt and deposit it beside the mounds.

These mound-dwellers finally learned to build dikes, and later they invented windmills to drain water from the polders (land reclaimed from the sea). Today the former swamps and inland seas are rich farm lands, crisscrossed by canals and dotted with prosperous villages.

A tremendous natural seawall of sand dunes protects the country against the fury of the stormy North Sea. In 1953, however, huge storms whipped up large waves that broke through the dikes, damaging 70,000 homes and claiming many lives. Since then people of the Netherlands have been building even higher dikes to keep out the sea. They expect to finish them within the next ten years.

Since Holland’s climate is moist, it is just right for the growing of flowers. Pots of them are in the windows of almost every home, and people travel from all over the world in the spring to see the bulb fields, with acres and acres of colorful hyacinths and tulips everywhere. Tulips are as much a symbol of Holland as the wooden shoes (klompen), Dutch bonnets, and windmills.

In the winter when the canals and rivers are frozen over, men, women, and children all put on skates, and whole families glide over the ice for long trips from town to town.

In the warmer months of the year much of the travel in this picturesque country is done on bicycles. Endless streams of riders going to work, school, or just bicycling are seen on special bike paths that have been built next to the highways. By the time a child has reached the age of six, he is able to ride a bicycle, and he usually owns one before he is eight.

Six is the official age to begin school. Boys and girls go to high school for either five or six years, and everyone is taught several languages as well as those subjects studied in other countries. In addition to Dutch, the students all learn French, English, and German.

The home and the family are especially important in the Netherlands. Families work and ride and skate together. They are usually together for all meals, even at lunchtime, since fathers are able to go home from their work and children from their schools.

Mothers in Holland are honored and respected with a special feeling since the last two rulers of the country have been women—Queen Wilhelmina and Queen Juliana.

[illustration] Illustrated by Fae Call