Pella at Christmas time

There’s nothing like a trip to Pella, Iowa, to put me in the mood for Christmas.

It’s become a tradition for me to travel to Pella, a Dutch community 45 miles southeast of Des Moines, just before Christmas to pick up baked goods and cheeses for the holidays. I’ve also been known to do some of my Christmas shopping there.


I spent yesterday afternoon in Pella, inhaling all the goodness of the downtown bakeries and warming up with an eggnog latte at Smokey Row coffee shop. The bakeries (Jaarsma is my go-to shop, but Vander Ploeg Bakery is also very good) are the BEST at Christmas because in addition to the usual Dutch letters and other goodies, they have gingerbread houses, spicy St. Nick cookies in many sizes, and other holiday treats. I always buy coffee cakes and macaroons (coconut and date), frosted sugar cookies, caramel tarts (which never make it all the way home), and at least a dozen St. Nicks.

After the bakery, I like to go to Ulrich Meat Market – not to buy meat (although I am told it is very good), but to buy imported cheeses. Ulrich (and In’t Veld Meat Market on the next block) have Dutch cheeses that are hard to find in central Iowa, plus Ulrich has a good selection of other European and Iowa cheeses, including Maytag’s delicious blue cheese and white cheddar.

On this trip to Pella, for the first time, I visited the Scholte House Museum to see how it was decorated for Christmas. In my spring visits, I have always gone to the Scholte Gardens, because they are bursting with tulips of every color, shape, and size. But I had never taken a tour of the Scholte home. It was well worth the $5 admission charge. Beverly Graves, the home’s director (and live-in caretaker) gave me a thorough tour that covered not just the history of the house, but a history of its early owners and how they settled the city of Pella. I especially enjoyed the 15 Christmas trees, historic artwork, and cozy furnishings.

There’s more to do in Pella during the holidays, including a Pella Historical Village Christmas Walk (“a walk through  20+ buildings ‘dressed-up’ for the holidays,” now through Dec. 31) and Pella Christmas in the Country (an annual country light display, each evening through Dec. 31).

Shopping and dining in Pella have changed over the years. Some of my favorite shops and restaurants have come and gone, but they always seem to be replaced with something new to explore. One shop, De Pelikaan, has been there for years and features unique imported Dutch gifts. Just stroll around the downtown area, wander through the shops, enjoy the windmill, and you’ll be sure to find something that catches your eye.

Not far from Pella is Lake Red Rock. I am not big on water sports, but I like to go to Red Rock for the walking trails, though not so much this time of year.

Pella is actually a wonderful place any time of year – although most people mainly think of Pella during Tulip Time (held May 5-7 in 2011). Tulip Time is a festival that features parades, costumes, flowers, street scrubbing, Dutch dancing, crafts, food (lots of food), and music. If you’re not into the festival itself, go the week before like I do, and just enjoy the tulips and bakeries without the crowds.


2 comments so far

  1. […] 3. Scholte House and Gardens: Located on Washington Street, the house is the first in Pella, being built by Hendrik Scholte in 1848 for his wife. One can see the rooms and exhibits pertaining to their lives and the history of Pella. While the house and the gardens are best seen in the spring time during the Tulip Festival as well as during the summer, the house itself has a wide display of 15 Christmas trees to see, each one has its own taste and history. While we saw the house but not the display because it was closed, a columnist visiting the house at Christmas time found the displays very impressive. Yet with the holiday season one should look at expanding their opening hours to include weekends and 2-3 more days in the week instead of only one day a week. But in either case, the house has maintained its original form and is impressive even from the business district. […]

  2. The Flensburg Files on

    Hi there, I did a write-up on Christmas in Pella for my column which might be of interest to you. To sum up, Pella has the potential to do more than what is offered based on my observations. But what it has is good enough for a few hours of downtime before travelling onwards. Enjoy the story and Merry Christmas! 🙂 Link:

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