The 2023 Tulip Time festival begins May 4th and runs through May 14th.
Over eight decades of tulips and fatballs. That’s right, more than EIGHTY years.
This is no amateur operation. This is serious stuff. It’s Tulip Time in Holland (Michigan), and when it comes to festivals, these
people don’t mess around.
It would seem that the six million tulips alone would be more than enough for any small Midwestern town, but not so for Holland. They take it to the limit — right up to the edge of crazy — creating a veritable Tulipalooza.
That’s why Tulip Time was named Best Small Town Festival by Reader’s Digest.
The eight days of festivities begin and end with a Klompen good time. Several times a day, the Klompen Dancers don Dutch garb and take to the streets around Centennial Park.
The sound of wooden shoes clomping on the pavement literally fills the air.
Excruciatingly thick socks are worn to fight the friction caused by the mercilessly unyielding footwear as well as to keep the lumber leg caps from becoming noggin knocking missiles during the high kicking portion of the show.
Hundreds of Hollanders participate in the dancing every year, initially
with their local high school troops, then coming back time and time again as alumni.
The handmade patterns for the dancer’s costumes are closely held by “Directors,” a title referred to by many of the indigenous inhabitants we chatted up.
We presumed that a Director is quite a high ranking position in the Holland Tulip Secret Society. A kind of “Don” in the underworld of flowering bulb festivals.
When a dancer is found worthy of performance, Field’s Fabrics is given the performer’s measurements and the choosing of the material commences. Field’s Fabrics is the exclusive supplier for all things Dutch and wearable in Holland.
We don’t think it would be advisable to procure materials elsewhere, if you get our drift, a person may very well get whacked. Once an offer is made that can’t be refused, a local seamstress sews the ensemble.
“The costume is then inspected to assure that it meets the standard for authenticity and construction”, as per the Director’s criterion and the festival’s website.
The whole process must be very akin to selecting a prom dress for many of Holland’s giddy youngsters. The end result is a wonderful bouquet of resplendently costumed dancers klompen through the tulip-lined streets of Holland. Spectacular, and well worth the effort.
While visiting Field’s Fabrics, we asked about the curious little gold twirly thingys that adorned certain dancer’s temples.
We were hoping for some inside dirt on how this blooming little organization operated. Perhaps the quirky little spirals were in lieu of a secret handshake or some sort of insidious insignia. No such luck. We were informed that they are called “kissers” — hypothetically designed to keep the boys from stealing a smooch on the cheek.
“Really?” We asked.
“I don’t think it works,” was our answer from the pleasant proprietor.
Giving up on trying to crack into the Dutch Mafia, we decided to absorb the rest of the celebration without malice. There was so much to take in — the traditional street scrubbing before the parades, the Muziekparade, Kinderparade, and Volksparade (bringing new meaning to the phrase “Dutch Clean”).
The Kinderplaatz, Wooden Shoe-Be-Doo, trolley tours, a beer garden, and food.
Wandering midst the merriment, we happened upon a food wagon emblazoned with “OLDE WORLD DELI FATBALLS.”
The procession of folks waiting for a fatball was amazingly long. Could balls of fat actually be the gastronomical hit of Tulip Time? Curiosity got the better of David, so he joined the line while Veronica went in for a bit of recon.
Peering in the back of the wagon, the fatball mystery began to unfold.
A man stood feeding corndogs, French fries and large wads of a thick substance from what looked like a industrial paint container into a deep fryer. By process of elimination, Veronica deduced that the gobs of dough must be fatballs in the making.
Inching toward the front of the wagon, Veronica spied the staging area, the site in which the fatball assembly took place. Here were grapefruit sized lumps of fried dough glistening with corndog flavored oil.
The balls were then cut open, unceremoniously packed with either pudding or pie filling, wrapped into grease absorbing paper and stuffed into a paper snowcone holder, then handed out the window to the eagerly awaiting fatball consumers.
Veronica rejoined David just as he received his chocolate and Bavarian cream fatball. The orb was more like a lump of pizza dough than a doughnut. Dense, without a trace of sugar. David’s arm bulged with the sheer weight of it.
Turns out that fatballs actually are a Dutch treat, not just some weird thing Michiganders cooked up. Fatballs are identified by a number of names in the motherland — order up an oliebollen, vet ballen, smoutebollen or oliekoecken and you’ll be given a good ole ball of fat.
We took our oliebollen to the gazebo to enjoy music from a Dutch folk group direct from Holland, Moederleet. Just as we were contemplating
picking up a case of Heineken and heading backstage to party with
the band, the full impact of David’s vet ballen hit.
Our delightful day amongst the tulips came to an abrupt and unfortunate end. Let’s just say that if you ever find yourself in Holland, Michigan you might want to avoid the Shell station. The bathroom will never be the same.
David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com