News Articles

Volunteers develop Simmer 2000 reunion into province-wide grand event

Details emerging of extensive schedule

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

LEEUWARDEN, the Netherlands - Organizers of what could become a massive, Fryslân-wide Simmer2000 reunion are turning their already identity-rich province into the temporary home of one great cultural manifestation, about which visitors will likely talk for decades to come.

Over 225 cities, towns and villages each are developing a schedule of events, designed to attract people who have moved away, and now live elsewhere in the Netherlands or have emigrated. Coinciding with Simmer2000 is the Fryslân Festival, featuring theatre, opera and visual arts. The official reunion festivities are scheduled to start on July 1 and close on July 22.

A province with a largely agricultural economy, Fryslân for much of its history had a slower population growth than the rest of the Netherlands. While industry and commerce developed elsewhere in the country much earlier, it was not until the 1950s that Frisian towns such as Drachten, Heerenveen and Leeuwarden evolved into major regional centres for light industry. By then, thousands of emigrants already had settled in the U.S.A., Canada, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. Many of those who left for North America, took a track cleared by older brothers, uncles, granduncles, and fellow villagers of earlier generations, adding another link or two to the immigration-chain.

Identity preservation

The agrarian 'heitelân' may not have been able to supply jobs for all the employable Frisians over the ages, but it has not diminished pride in the Frisian identity among emigrants. Frisian journalists such as De Zee who had visited compatriots in the U.S.A. were impressed how their language and culture were being maintained. Even today, one of the largest, annual Dutch community events in North America is put on by a Frisian group in Paris, Ontario; the July picnic.

As an umbrella event, Simmer2000 will likely become one of the larger 'happenings' of the decade. The events on the program involve thousands of volunteers and range from Aldeboarn's grand Boonstra-reunion to the presentation of Zwaagwesteinde's book on its emigrants. Representative of the numerous initiatives are Bakkeveen's program on the (peat-digging colony) origin of the town, the 70th anniversary of Buitenpost's botanical garden, a street festival in Dokkum, the annual market and display of old crafts in Franeker, activities with 'skutjes' and 'boerenpramen' (a throw back to the days when much of the area's transportation took place via waterways) in Grou, the anniversary of Harlingen's club for (kaats)ballsport, a village fest in Hitzum, the celebration of the centennial of Christian education in the 'Trynwalden' and reunion in Oentsjerk, the launching of a book about Oosterzee, a reunion in Paesens-Moddergat, the anniversary tattoo and allegorical parade in St. Nicolaasga, a for Friesland unique 'schutterdag' in Sloten, walk, bicycle and boat trips through the area's nature and the traditional farmer's wedding fest in Veenwouden, as well as Wergae's musical program "Amerika." A look at the Internet website will provide some e-mail contact addresses and many more details, including a far more extensive list of activities. Has 'it heitelân' enough pull to motivate Frisians abroad to join the Simmer2000 reunion? Early indications suggest that the answer will be nothing short of a resounding yes. The first enquiries for information about the event started to trickle in within weeks of the announcement of then still tentative plans for a reunion, including from third-generation Frisian-Americans. Several travel agencies developed their tailor-made plans for group travel and accommo- dation, with one agency having a solid list of bookings for a number of hotels over 18 months before the event is to take place.