The Tulip Time Festival

Holland, Michigan; 1950s

I grew up in Holland, Michigan, which you will be completely shocked to discover was founded by Dutch people. And it’s right on the edge of Lake Michigan. In our town, we had various celebrations or harvest festivals. Being Holland, Michigan, we had an annual Tulip Time festival. It was a whole community event, and there were tourists who definitely came to see it. In May, everybody in town would get involved in the Tulip Time Festival. 

In the fall everybody planted tulip bulbs in their gardens and on the boulevards like we have on 34th Avenue. And during Tulip Time, there were three different parades that would take place that week. The Wednesday parade was the traditional “Washing the Street” parade. Everyone in town would dress in Dutch costumes and bring out brooms and buckets of water. The police and the fire department would have the hydrants set up so that you could fill buckets. 

People would throw the water down on Main Street and march while sweeping the street, and it would always end up with people throwing water at each other. All of us as kids would be running around and having this great time. Thursday was the “Kinder Parade,” also known as the “Children’s Parade.”  Each of the elementary schools would have a theme from the Netherlands that they would feature in the parade. My elementary school’s theme was stories about Dutch people, And we would all dress in little Dutch costumes. I remember the year that our class got to present Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates because we all made cut-out shapes of silver skates from painted cardboard, and hung them around our necks. 

When I was in high school, I got to do two really special things for our Tulip Time. One of them was that I played in the band. I was a drummer, and our band at Holland High School is still the only high school marching band in the United States that marches in wooden shoes. We would play “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” in the Saturday parade and we had a dance where our clogs would click on the asphalt. So we would stamp our feet to “Tiptoe Through the Tulips,” which was always silly and fun, you know? 

But then in high school, the girls from about 9th or 10th grade up through college could join what was known as the Klompen Dancers. And the word “Klompen” means wooden shoes – so we were the Dutch dancers. And usually, it would be you and your best friend as partners, and whoever was the taller one would wear the boy outfit. We would dress in different costumes that reflected the different parts of the Netherlands. We all practiced after school and rehearsed this dance, and 98% of the girls would do this. The college kids or the alumni would come back and after the cleaning of the streets, kinder parade, and big parade on Saturday, the streets would line up and we would do a folk dance from the Netherlands. It was about a 20-minute long dance and so if you can imagine, the streets were lined up a mile up and down. All you would see were dancers in groups.

I found out when I was graduating from high school that the authentic Dutch dance was actually invented in my hometown of Holland, Michigan in the 1930s by a gym teacher who thought it would be a great addition for Tulip Time. It was one of those things where just as I was leaving, this tradition that I had grown up with was actually something that had been made up just for the fun of it. And for a while, I felt really cheated after finding out that this wasn’t an authentic dance. But over the years when I go back to visit my family, I still know all of the steps to that dance to this day and I would probably join it again. 

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