Tulip time – Holland, Michigan has its tulips down pat

MICHIGAN  Holland -  Ah, to be in Holland, now that tulip time is here. Holland, Michigan, that is. And the time to be in Holland, Michigan is the first week in May when the entire community and thousands of visitors turn out for Tulip Time. So it has been for 80 years, with Tulip Time number 84 coming up in 2013.

Given such longevity, Holland has its tulips down pat. Millions of tulips – the city claims five million – are on display in parks, along streets and in local attractions. Drive into town on River Street from US 31 and tulips in median strips and at roadside begin to tease the eye, the first of the 600,000 bulbs that burst into flower along the streets of Holland each year. The colorful, upside-down ballerina skirts are a welcoming sight to the some 500,000 people who swarm into Holland (population 35,000) at Tulip Time eager to overdose not only on tulips but also on the town’s accompanying “Dutchness.”

It’s important to note that Holland’s “Dutchness” doesn’t suddenly leap into existence each May.  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).

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 83 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.

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. But the mid 1930s it was nationally known.

Today, a full line up of Tulip Time festivities fill the festival week. Hundreds of townspeople turn out in authentic Dutch costumes to march in the kick-off Volksparade, the first of a series of parades. In the tradition of Dutch cleanliness, the parade begins with the scrubbing of the street. Bucket of water are sloshed, brooms are pushed and when all is deemed in order the parade of tulip-p-bedecked floats and school marching bands begins.

Tulip mania Michigan style continues with a Tulip Trolley trundling through tulip-lines streets to deliver visitors to tulip-filled parks. Klompen dancers perform the steps of Dutch folk dances, with some 800 dancers in traditional costumes representing dozens of klompen groups gathering for a competitive klompen extravaganza around the town-center’s Centennial Park – where there are, of course, plentiful plantings of tulips. At the Holland Area Arts gallery a complete collection of past Tulip Time posters are displayed, along with an exhibit of visual arts by professionals and amateurs, all featuring tulips.

On Windmill Island, a 36-acre municipal park on a canal that is part of Lake Macatawa, some 200,000 tulips lead up to the 248-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. Alisa Crawford is the miller in charge of its 80-foot sails, the first Dutch-certified woman miller in America and the only female master miller in the world.

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 five0million bulbs representing 125 varieties along with an array of daffodils, hyacinth, and crocus. For visitors hankering to carry a bit of Tulip Time home, bulbs are available for sale in the garden shop.

Holland’s dazzling tulipness goes on, Tulip Time to Tulip Time, with the next year’s Tulip Time already in the planning before the current year’s Tulip Time has begun to fade into memory. Tulip bulbs for the next year are ordered. Each September 300,000 arrive 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, half of the total bulbs that grow along the streets of Holland are replaced. An ingenious machine, designed and manufactured locally specifically for the task, removes the old bulbs and dirt, conveyers them into a truck for composting, and leaves behind a trench at the proper depth for new bulbs. Bulbs are then hand planted and covered with compost recycled from the previous year’s bulb removal.

Through Michigan’s long and harsh winter, the bulbs await spring awakening while klompen dancers rehearse, the delft factory replenishes delftware supplies, and bakerjis continue to turn out Dutch specialties, with erwtensoep (pea soup) a popular item. Time for the townspeople to catch their breath. Just around the calendar’s corner another Tulip Time awaits.

IF YOU GO: Tulip Time in Holland, Michigan is always held the first week in May. For further information: Holland Area Convention & Visitors Burreau, 76 East 8th Street, Holland, MI 49423. Telephone: 800 506-1209. Web: www.holland.org