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Tulip Time – Opening the Michigan Festival Season

When the Tulip Time Festival was first created 85 years ago in Holland, Michigan, the event was devoted mainly to these beautiful plants. Over time, however, Tulip Time has developed into not only a celebration of more than 6 million planted flowers, but also a celebration of Dutch culture. From Dutch Dancing and the Tulip Time Run to numerous parades throughout the week and dozens of live performers, the Tulip Time Festival is the perfect event to kick off the summer festival season along the shores of Lake Michigan.


RAL: Can you describe your event to our members who are unfamiliar with the Tulip Time Festival?
SZ: This is our 85th year, so the festival has been around for a while, but it has definitely changed a lot over time. It started out as a celebration of tulips, but as the years have passed a lot of Dutch heritage elements have been added to Tulip Time as well as including Dutch Dancing and entertainment features.

RAL: Dutch Dancing sounds pretty unique. Why was it added to the festival?
SZ: Actually, Dutch Dancing is part of the high school program, just like sports events. A lot of a youngsters in high school make the decision to join the Dutch Dancing teams. So, there are high school Dutch Dancers, and then we have a group that is known as the alumni Dutch Dancers. These people have graduated from high school and continued to dance. Community Dutch Dancers are our third group. These are people who did not go to high school in the immediate Holland area. They may have just moved to the area and want to be involved in the festival so we set up classes to teach them the art of Dutch Dancing as well. With all three groups combined, we will have about 1,000 dancers participating in the festival. It makes for quite a sight when they are all dancing at once.

RAL: I bet that is quite a sight. In addition to those 1,000 Dutch Dancers, how many people attend the event annually, and what kinds of groups do you see participate?
SZ: We always say that our target market isn’t really a target at all because we target everyone. Typically, we draw between 400- and 500,000, so the impact is certainly felt in the community. There are activities like a Kinderplaats which is the carnival for younger children at the beginning of the festival. We also have live entertainment and fireworks that are geared to pleasing the masses. This year we even have Bill Cosby performing one night as our highlight event. With all of the entertainers we bring in, our goal is to find something for everybody, and with 60 performances during the week, we think we cover all the bases. A lot of people really enjoy the Dutch heritage events, so we really try to spread those out evenly through the week. People want to see the Dutch Dancers, go the to Dutch market and eat Dutch food. You can do all of that at the Tulip Time Festival.

RAL: What can I expect to do at a typical day at the Tulip Time Festival?
SZ: It really depends on what day you come to the event, whether you are coming on a weekend, a weekday, or a parade day. The offerings will change on a daily basis. The first weekend, there are a lot of different activities including the Tulip Time Run. This year we are anticipating about 2,500 runners for this. Normally, runners use this as a training run because it is the first one of the spring. The first weekend also features our Art & Craft Fair which attracts about 200 vendors and fills Centennial Park.

We also have parades throughout the week. On Wednesday, we hold the Volksparade, which begins with a public street-sweeping. Anyone can come (in costume), bringing their mop and bucket, and sweep the streets before the parade starts. They will also lead the parade down the route. Thursday is our Kinderparade, which involves 7,000 school children is definitely our cutest parade. Saturday is our Muziekparade. It is the largest of the week and a great culmination to a fun time with friends and family.

To read more about the Tulip Time Festival, head to the event website