When my friend asked me if I wanted to head to her hometown for the Tulip Time Festival back in 2010, I figured, hey? Why not?! She talked fondly of the festivities and everything going on. Plus, I was in desperate need of a little getaway, and Michigan in May seemed like the perfect opportunity. What I didn’t expect was an idyllic little town overtaken with wooden shoes, tulips, and tourists who came from miles around just to experience Holland, Michigan for one week in May.
We went back again this year, and it was every bit as wonderful as it was the first time. It was made even better because my husband came along for his first ever Tulip Time, and the only thing better than your first Tulip Time is introducing someone else to their first Tulip Time.
1. Dutch Culture is a Way of Life
Most of the families in Holland have direct ties to Dutch ancestry, and the Dutch culture is very much alive and well. Dutch dancing is an actual class offered to high school students, and Dutch costumes are passed down from generation to generation.
2. The Costumes
Each costume has a historical tie to a province of Holland, and there are very specific rules for how it is to be worn. I dared to suggest putting a Friesland bonnet with a Volendam dress, and I was corrected quite quickly. Both my girls were able to dress in full Dutch costume on their inaugural visits, and the photos are priceless. The costumes were borrowed from my friend’s family, and if you’re looking for your own, be prepared to pay a lot of money for one. The shoes on the other hand, those are pretty easy to get.
3. The Wooden Shoes
There is an actual factory where the iconic wooden shoes are made from solid blocks of wood right in front of curious tourists and getting your first pair is sort of a right of passage in the area. Locals will laud the shoes comfort and practicality when it comes to working in the garden or around the tulip fields. If you don’t really have place in your house for a pair of wooden shoes, go ahead and get a customized shoe pin for $3.
The only reason I knew about delft painting was because my parents had some delft from Holland that they bought during their time serving in the military over in Germany. Just over from where the shoes are made is a full studio where skilled artisans paint traditional scenes onto everything from salt shakers to serving platters. And delft isn’t just blue, there’s also green and red available. While delft isn’t really my thing, seeing them paint in a style that has been around for so long was fascinating and worth seeing.
5. Tulip Fields
Veldheer’s Tulip Farm is a must-see and is located right next to the delft and DeKlomp factory. Not only will you be able to see more tulips than you ever thought possible, you’ll see kinds you never even knew existed (or were even possible.) You’ll be given a little guidebook that explains each tulip, and at the end of your tour, you can order tulips from the garden shop and they will be sent to you in October, just in time to plant for next spring.
6. Dutch Dancing
This was by far the most humorous part of Tulip Time for me, simply because I wasn’t prepared for the streets of Holland to be filled with high school students in full Dutch costume performing a choreographed dance to the masses to strange and scratchy instrumental music. But it’s totally a thing, and it’s an adorable and endearing thing. The sound of thousands of wooden shoes slapping against the pavement is a sound that has to be totally unique to Holland.
Considering a trip to Tulip Time? It always takes place around the first week of May (May 2-9 in 2015), and if the weather is strange and the tulips come early? The festivities continue with the title of ‘stem fest.’ This year many of the tulips had bloomed, but there were still a lot that were only beginning. Come dressed in layers, with umbrellas and rain jackets because both visits to tulip time have been moody in regards to weather. Another bonus to hanging out in Western Michigan? The craft beer. Last year, Grand Rapids (30 minutes from Holland) was named Beer City U.S.A., a title they are proud to hold. There also happens to be the world’s best pie in Grand Rapids as well, Sweetie-licious located in the Grand Rapids Downtown Market (we made two trips from Holland to Grand Rapids JUST FOR PIE.) You can read more about feeding your face in the Mitten right here.
There is a fee for entry into the tulip fields, however the parades, dancing, shoe and delft factory are all free. There are also gardens downtown with tulips that are free as well.
Find more of Casey’s writing on her blog moosh in indy. She’s also available on twitter, facebook, flickr and Instagram. If you can’t find her any of those places? Check the couch, she’s probably taking a nap.