Some time ago my friend Louise told me about a Sunday shared soup tradition that existed in central Alberta, Canada while she was growing up in the 1990's. When I pressed her for details, she referred me to Karoline, a friend of hers who grew up in a family that practiced this Dutch-Canadian tradition. Karoline told me about how her parents offered anyone and everyone a place to belong on Sunday. Their hospitality helped immigrants (themselves included) find family in a new land. Karoline laughed while I interviewed her, because she never imagined that someone would ask so many questions about her family’s Sunday lunches. There is a chance that this story interested me because I really like soup. But mostly I think it caught my attention because I really like hearing about communities that practice intentional, regular hospitality. I hope you do, too! —Julie
Can you tell me about your background? Did you grow up in the Netherlands?
I was born in the Netherlands but my parents, siblings and I moved to Canada when I was almost seven years old. I grew up in central Alberta, in a region full of Dutch immigrants! As you probably know, if Dutch people go to church, it’s usually to a Reformed church. I grew up attending a Christian Reformed church where a lot of other Dutch farming families attended.
The reason this interview came about was because I heard that when you were growing up, there were two constants in your home on Sundays: soup and guests. That made me curious. Could you tell us more about the soup aspect first?
Yes, my mom would serve soup every Sunday. A lot of Reformed churches taught their congregants not to work on Sundays. Soup was something families could prepare the day before, and then they didn’t have to work much on Sunday. We would make a lot of soup on Saturdays.
Did you eat a different soup each week?
Usually it was the same soup: a Dutch vegetable soup with small beef meatballs in it. We made it using Knorr or Honig brand Groentesoep mix. The meatballs we made ourselves on Saturday—that was the most time-consuming part. Oh, and Dutch people always add Maggi liquid seasoning to their soup—that liquid that looks like soya sauce.
Oh, in the region of Germany where we live, apparently everyone eats Maggi. Except us!
Yeah, that was guaranteed to be on the table. Also, traditionally Dutch people eat bread at two out of three meals each day. So the soup was always served with bread, butter and cheese. And we always drink milk with our soup.
When your family prepared the soup, was the plan always to share it with guests?
Yes, after church we virtually always had guests for lunch. Sometimes we had planned ahead of time who was coming, and sometimes it was spontaneous. But everyone knew not to expect a fancy meal. They already knew what would be on the menu, and the important thing was just spending time together.
One unique thing about Dutch-Canadian hospitality was that when guests came, we started with coffee and dessert (always cake or a cookie) before we had our soup. I remember that this stood out to Canadian guests who came over. They found it odd to eat dessert before the meal, but that was the Dutch way. If we did have dessert after the soup, it was always yogurt. (In case you're not noticing the trend, Dutch people love dairy products.)
These insights about what Dutch people like to eat are helpful if someone is hosting a Dutch guest! How many people would join you for Sunday lunch?
Well, there were six of us in our family and usually one other family with kids would join us. It was quite organized. Everyone ate together around the same table at the same time. There were probably 10-12 of us on an average Sunday, and the biggest group would be 15-20 people. If more than a dozen people were coming, Mom would make something extra instead of just soup, but it would never be fancy. The guests would stay a few hours.
Do you know if this practice of serving soup to guests on Sunday was an idea that came from the Netherlands?
I asked my mom about this, since I was so young when we emigrated. She said that in the Netherlands we would eat a fancier noon meal on Sundays. So, this was more a practice of our Dutch community on the Canada side. I know some people in central Alberta still have soup and guests each Sunday.
I find it unique that your parents, who were new immigrants, were so quick to start having others into their home regularly. I wouldn’t have guessed that immigrants would be so hospitable from the start. Maybe I picture them having so much to adjust to that it doesn't occur to them to start hosting guests right away.
Showing hospitality to others in their new community was an important part of their adjustment to Canada. They left their families behind in Europe and if anything, hospitality became more vital than ever. It created a support system for them, and provided connection and socialization in a new country.
"Showing hospitality to others was an important part of my parents' adjustment to Canada. It created a support system for them."
I should add that my parents were perhaps more hospitable than the average Dutch Canadian. Hospitality is definitely my mom’s gift. In our home, anyone was welcome at any time. If someone didn't have a place to go for Christmas, he or she spent the holiday with us. Some Dutch immigrants to Canada don't try to learn English and only made friends with people who speak Dutch. But my parents were good about making friends with and hosting guests of any background. We would play with our non-Dutch neighbours' kids and have them over. The Dutch Reformed church culture taught my parents hospitality, but they also practiced hospitality to personally live out their faith.
How does the church you presently attend in the city compare to the one you grew up attending in the country, as far as hospitality goes?
I go to a small church in the city, here in Alberta. It is not a Dutch Reformed church. The first Sunday that I visited there, the pastor and his wife had me over for lunch. I would say that their hospitality upon first meeting was definitely influential in my decision to attend there; I felt welcomed. However, in the past four or five years at my church, I’ve only been invited to someone’s house for a meal a handful of times. The church of my childhood was better at practicing hospitality.
Would you say that your current church's hospitality culture (or lack thereof) is probably "normal" for Canadian churches at present?
Yes, it seems like overall in Western culture we've gotten away from having people in our homes. If we meet, it's at a neutral location like a coffee shop. We feel we have to book appointments with each other and that we can’t just drop in. This is a loss, and our society is more disconnected because of it. I am a part of The Supper Club, which you featured in your first interview, and I love having meals with that group regularly.
One thing I like about the church you grew up in was that everyone was guaranteed to have a family on Sundays. I believe this is what the church is supposed to be: a family. This is particularly important for people who don’t have their own family to eat with, like singles, orphans, widowers and widows, immigrants, refugees...
Yes, I lived overseas for nine years (in Australia, New Zealand and Africa) and I found that the days I missed my family the most were Sundays. There was something special about our Sunday traditions and I have so many good memories of those Sundays shared with family and friends. Through their regular hospitality, my parents taught me that anyone and everyone should feel welcome in my home.