In the poem, Hamatreya, written by Ralph Waldo Emerson and published in 1846, the poet states that the “Earth laughs in flowers,” and in May in Holland, Michigan, the Earth is giddy with tulips. The tulip, which is considered one of the world’s most popular and most recognizable types of flower, first originated centuries ago in Persia and Turkey, according to ProFlowers.com. At the time, it was a Turkish tradition for people to wear tulips in their turban, and Europeans gave the flower the name “tulip,” which is derived from the Persian word meaning “turban.”
Over time, the tulip’s popularity continued to grow (pun intended) in many places, but the flower was especially popular in the Netherlands in the 17th century. Even though tulips are now grown all around the world, today, the beautiful tulip is almost synonymous with the Netherlands and many people still refer to some varieties as “Dutch tulips.” Given this, it should come as no surprise that a town named Holland, Michigan, boasts nearly five million tulips planted throughout the city and ready to bloom in early spring. In fact, the town, which is located on the shores of beautiful Lake Macatawa and Lake Michigan, hosts an annual Tulip Time Festival every year for locals and visitors to enjoy the splendor of this flower.
According to the Tulip Time website, the idea for the festival came about in 1927 when a biology teacher at Holland High School, Lida Rogers, suggested that the town adopt the tulip as its flower due to the town’s connection to the Netherlands. Rodgers also suggested that the town set aside a day to honor these flowers. In 1928, Holland’s City Council under then Mayor Ernest C. Brooks, authorized and appropriated the necessary funds to purchase 100,000 tulip bulbs directly from the Netherlands. The bulbs were to be planted in city parks and other areas and sold to Holland residents for one cent each. In 1929, after thousands of tulips bloomed, so did the decision to host an annual festival. To further pay tribute to the town’s close ties to the Netherlands, festival organizers and workers donned Dutch costumes and wooden shoes and celebrated Dutch customs, dances and traditions. While the nine-day Tulip Time Festival (as it had become known as) was discontinued briefly during World War II, it was renewed in 1946 as a four-day festival, retaining all of the pageantry and features of the previous festival. In addition, its Dutch ties were strengthened, as the country was grateful for the aid that Holland, Michigan’s local citizens sent to the Netherlands after WWII.
In the 1960s and ‘70s, the Tulip Time Festival continued to grow and blossom into the nationally known event it was prior to WWII. It began attracting visitors and groups by the bus loads. In 1991, the four-day festival grew to a ten-day event to help accommodate the ever-increasing amounts of visitors and groups interested in visiting the town. However, due to continued global warming trends in Holland and the early growth and blooming of the tulips, the festival was shortened to eight days in 2001, and moved up a week to better coincide with the blooming of the flowers. Now in its 88th year, the Tulip Time Festival, which takes place May 6 to 14, 2017, continues to draw enormous crowds and is continuously adding more events and activities to satisfy visitors of all ages. “Tulip Time is Holland’s premier event, welcoming hundreds of thousands of people to enjoy our beautiful community,” says Gwen Auwerda, executive director of the Tulip Time Festival. “Tulip Time is a celebration of our rich Dutch heritage, the Holland community and of course, the stars of the show—millions of tulips.”
While the floral focal point of the festival is certainly the breathtaking beauty of the tulips, Tulip Time has something to offer all of its visitors. Among this year’s events and activities is the Tulip Time 5K, 10K and Kids’ Fun Run; a carnival that offers rides, food and fun for all ages; trolley tours through the city’s historic district, city parks and local attractions; an arts and crafts fair and art in bloom exhibit; tulip pot painting; and a quilt show. Tulip Time also features a Dutch Marktplaats, which showcases a selection of Dutch foods, stage events like wooden shoe-carving demonstrations, Dutch folk tunes, tulip master gardening and so much more. Dutch dance performances are among the most popular events at the festival. Nearly 1,000 costumed locals perform traditional Dutch dances every day throughout the City of Holland and this year, there are more than 50 performances scheduled throughout the week. Also at this year’s festival, visitors will have the chance to don their own klompen and take a Dutch Dance lesson after the evening performances on May 6 and May 10. This year also celebrates the family tradition of Dutch Dance at a special event on May 7 where generations of families will dance together.
Since the 1960s, Tulip Time has showcased the Holland Windmill Chorus and its unique performance of A Barbershop Home Companion, which is a 90-minute spoof of Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion mixed with classic American barbershop harmony. The festival also features 21-time Grammy-winning and Country Music Hall of Fame artist, Vince Gill, as one of its special guests, as well as several different shows each day and night, including stand-up comedy and improvisational theatre, among other fun entertainment. This year’s festival will include three parades with post-parade entertainment, including the famed Petoskey Streel Drum Band on Saturday, May 13.
So grab your klompen (or go learn how to carve your own) and visit the Tulip Time Festival in gorgeous Holland, Michigan. With so many lovely tulips to admire and all the fun family-focused Dutch-themed activities and events, it’s guaranteed the Earth won’t be the only thing that’s laughing.