Behind-the-Scenes of Tulip Time in Holland

From May 7-14, more than 500,000 people from around the world will travel to Holland, Michigan to experience the 2016 Tulip Time Festival. The festival features Dutch dance performances, concerts, theatre, food, parades and more – all of which take a lot of time and dedication to produce by the staff and a team of more than 800 volunteers.

Gwen Auwerda, Executive Director of the festival, gives us a sneak peek at what goes into the making of Tulip Time. 

In Holland, Michigan, we’ve had a cool spring and the tulips love it! The town is being spruced up from a long winter and the Tulip Time Festival staff and interns are busy with the finishing touches on all the great events, entertainment and parades.

Here are just some of the many things that happen behind-the-scenes in Holland as we prepare for the festival.

Prepping Pigs-in-a-Blanket

500 dozen pigs-in-a-blanket – a traditional Dutch food – were made by a group of volunteers from area churches.  “Pigs” as we call them are a sausage roll covered with pastry dough and served to thousands of visitors at Dutch Marktplaats along with the largest selection of traditional Dutch food in the City of Holland.  This is quite a time honored tradition for the churches.

Marching Band Practice

All of the bands are practicing their marching skills for the Saturday GMB Muziekparade, the longest parade in Michigan at 2.4 miles. This year, May 14th is the day of the GMB Muziekparade. The parade will feature over 4,000 participants.

Dutch Dance Rehearsals

Dutch Dance is another signature event during the festival.  The dancers typically learn the dance in high school and can continue dancing as an “alumni dancer” after graduation.  This year, we have 800 dancers who wear clothing representing the late 1800s and early 1900s.  Practices begin in January and the dancers spend 30 hours over the next 4 months learning the dance. This event is a visitor favorite and free!

We couldn’t put together an internationally known flower festival without our beloved volunteers.  It takes over 800 volunteers over an 8 day period to help with trash pickup, ushering at the shows, set-up, deliver potted tulips to the venues around the city, assist with the Tulip Time run, and the three parades.  It is because of the dedication of these volunteers that our city can host over 500,000 guests to Join the Dance!  We hope to see you in beautiful Holland for the 87th Tulip Time Festival.

Gwen Auwerda is the Executive Director of the Tulip Time Festival in Holland.

Are you heading to Tulip Time this year? Share with us below!

See What It’s Like to Be Holland’s Town Crier

Tulip Time 2014 in Holland, MI kicks off May 3rd! This year, the Town Crier Competition is one of the festival’s iconic events. Town Criers from around the world gather in Holland to compete during Tulip Time, adding a touch of old-world charm with their colorful costumes and clever cries. Guest blogger, Ann Van Heest from Discover Holland caught up with Holland’s own town crier, John Karsten, to talk with him about the competition and what it’s like to be the town crier in Holland. 

Photo courtesy of Discover Holland

Photo courtesy of Discover Holland

John Karsten wears the town crier hat with aplomb. After all, it is original. “The hat they gave me is the original hat they bought for the town crier in 1940,” he explains. John is the fifth town crier to don the official cap at the behest of Tulip Time organizers, and has fulfilled the role since 1979.

One of the most important roles Holland’s town crier has is to make the official announcement that kicks off Holland’s beloved Volksparade (May 7, 2014). Holland’s early Tulip Time traditions embraced the ethic of “Dutch clean,” and now every year Holland’s “volks” gather to scrub the downtown streets with brooms and water. (Early efforts to use the Dutch Cleanser powder resulted in a cloud of dust over the parade route!) The morning of the parade, the Mayor and City Council inspect the downtown streets. Mayor Kurt Dykstra declares the streets of Holland in need of scrubbing, and instructs the town crier to make the announcement that the streets must be cleaned. This is John’s favorite task as town crier. “I declare the streets are dirty…” John makes the announcement in both English and Dutch, and has even attempted to make it in Spanish!

yellowtulipsThe job of town crier is no small-time commitment- John is a member of both the American and Netherlands’ Town Crier Guilds. Last year he placed 11 out of 35 contestants at a world championship competition in Canada, his best finish ever. This year, he will step back from competition and host twelve guests to Holland, Michigan’s very own town crier competition (May 10). Hosting is a job he clearly relishes. “I invite them to come here and compete,” he explains, detailing the competitive events. Competitors from the Netherlands and Bermuda will attend, sharing their very own take on their special role. Historically, town criers would use a gong or bell to alert townspeople to their announcement, but the contestant from Bermuda will bring his bagpipes. John Karsten will supply a “benchmark cry” for the judges, and then each contestant will be judged on how their own cry measures up.

We invite you to join us in Holland for the competition on May 10 at Windmill Island Gardens.

See the town crier competition in action below:

Screen-Shot-2014-04-21-at-11.56.07-AM-150x150Ann Van Heest is the information coordinator at the Holland Visitors Bureau. Her first job was selling fudge at Windmill Island Gardens. Follow her @DiscoverHolland on Twitter and Instagram.