Tiptoeing Through the Tulips in Holland, Michigan

 

Scrubbing the streets mark the beginning of the festival.

 

In the tradition of Dutch cleanliness, the street had to be scrubbed before the parade began. Down the street the swab brigade came, dressed in authentic Dutch costumes, buckets of water sloshing, brooms swishing.

To my surprise, suddenly I was no longer a bystander. One of the brigade handed me a mop and — no matter that I was wearing sneakers instead of wooden shoes, jeans and a T-shirt instead of a dirndl and apron, a baseball cap instead of a starched pointed thing turned up over the ears. I was now part of the swabbing detail.

When all was deemed spic and span, I surrendered my mop and joined the throngs on the sidewalk to watch Holland, Michigan’s annual Tulip Time Volksparade of tulip-bedecked floats pass by.

Tulips have been the show in Holland, Michigan during the first week in May for more than 80 years. I’d come, along with the some 500,000 others who swarm into Holland (population 35,000) each year, to overdose on tulips and enjoy the town’s accompanying “Dutchness.” Even so, to find myself participating in street scrubbing was, to put it mildly, a bit unexpected.

In Your Bucket Because…

  • You never knew that tulip mania existed anywhere else than the Netherlands.
  • You enjoy unusual celebrations.
  • You’re a photographer — nothing more need be said!

Millions of tulips create bright swaths of color.

How Tulip Time in Michigan Came About

One might be excused in suspecting that this little community located on Lake Macatawa near the eastern shore of Lake Michigan blundered into a good tourist thing years ago and jumped on the bandwagon with, “Hey, let’s call ourselves Holland and capitalize on this tulip thing.” But that is not so.

When Albertus Van Raalte and his 60 followers in 1847 established a community as a refuge for those seeking religious freedom they named it in honor of their homeland – Holland. Hundreds of Dutch immigrants followed, carving a community reminiscent of the land they left behind out of deep forest and insect-infested swamp.

Colorful wooden shoes, klompen perfect.

Nearly 100 years later, Miss Lida Rogers, a biology teacher at Holland High School and a member of the Woman’s Literary Club, suggested that the town adopt the tulip as its official flower and celebrate it with a festival. Tulip bulbs were purchased from the Netherlands with residents encouraged to buy bulbs at a penny each. The following spring, thousands of tulips bloomed. Tulip Time was born. By the mid 1930s it was nationally known.

So it is that the town, year around, boasts the only Delftware factory in the United States, along with a wooden shoe manufacturer, plentiful windmills, and bakkerijs serving up the likes of saucijsenbroodjes (pig-in-a-blanket), and speculaasjes (spiced cookies).

It’s during Tulip Time, however, that Holland’s “Dutchness” moves into high gear.

My first view of Holland’s Tulip Time came as I drove into town on River Street from US 31 where hundreds, thousands, of colorful, upside-down ballerina skirts planted in median strips and at roadside welcomed me.

To see more, I jumped aboard the Tulip Trolley that trundles through tulip-lined street to deliver visitors to tulip-filled venues and tulip-themed events.

An important event takes place on the streets surrounding Centennial Park in the town’s center. Here, dozens of the area’s klompen groups gather to perform the steps of traditional Dutch dances — some 800 dancers in wooden shoes and traditional costumes klompen along.

Tulips, Tulips, Tulips Everywhere 

The 248-year-old De Zwann windmill was shipped from the Netherlands in 1964 and reassembled.

On Windmill Island, a 36-acre municipal park on a canal that is part of Lake Macatawa, some 200,000 tulips lead up to the248-year-old De Zwann windmill, shipped in pieces from the Netherlands in 1964 and reassembled. It is the only authentic working windmill in the United States.

Acres of tulips scorch the eye at Velheer Tulip Farm. Begun as a hobby farm in 1950 with the planting of 100 red and 100 white tulips, it has metamorphosed into 30 acres ablaze with over five- million bulbs representing 125 varieties along with an array of daffodils, hyacinth, and crocus. Visitors, like me, hankering to carry a bit of Tulip Time home, can stock up at the farm’s bulb-abundant garden shop.

While each year’s current Tulip Time is in full flower, plans are already well underway for the next Tulip Time to come.

Some 300,000 arrive each September from the Netherlands to be put into refrigerated storage. Over the next two months, with a detailed map keeping track of where they should go, they’ll replace half of the total bulbs that grow along the streets of Holland.

An ingenious machine, designed and manufactured in Holland specifically for the task removes the old bulbs and dirt, leaving behind trenching of the proper depth for new bulbs.

Through Michigan’s long and harsh winter, the bulbs await spring awakening while klompen dancers rehearse, the Delft factory replenishes Delftware supplies, and bakkerijen continue to turn out Dutch specialties. Time for the townspeople to catch their breath. Just around the calendar’s corner another Tulip Time awaits.

Practicalities

  • If you’d like to go, complete your travel plans early. Hotel rooms fill up fast.
  • With so much going on, consider spending a number of days in Holland,  making certain that you arrive in time to attend the kick-off Volksparade.  
  • Velheer Tulip Farm, on the outskirts of Holland, has not only as 30 acres of tulips in full bloom but also a shop where you can load up on bulbs to plant in your home garden.

 

Comments

  1. says

    I was wondering whether “Dutch cleanliness” is a North American invention. The one and only Dutch person I asked about it denied all knowledge of any national reputation for cleanliness.

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  2. says

    This may be a little off topic but if any of your readers end up going to Holland, MI, I highly recommended The Fat Burrito for awesome, reasonably-priced Mexican food. My husband worked on contract for a few months in Holland and we ate there at least once a week. That and the tulip festival are my best memories of the place!

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