The festival has a long and illustrious history as the largest tulip festival in the U.S., with parades, music and authentic Dutch traditions taking place across a week in early May. With all that and more, we look at why one of the country’s most celebrated festivals should be on your calendar.
The festival was conceived in the 1920s as the West Michigan city began to prosper as a tourist destination and sought new ways to capitalize on the increasing number of visitors. It had been settled in 1847 by Dutch Americans, who had fled the Netherlands due to its poor economic situation but remained proud of their homeland. In 1928, a schoolteacher suggested making the tulip the city’s flower, which evolved into an idea to import tulip bulbs from the Netherlands and hold a festival when they bloomed to celebrate their heritage and community.
The first festival took place over a week in May 1929 when 100,000 tulips bloomed for the first time, and its success led to Tulip Time becoming an annual event. Over subsequent years, other Dutch customs and traditions have been integrated into the festivities, such as authentic costumes, flower shows, parades, Klompen dancing, and music.
While the festival’s length has changed a number of times, and it has grown in scale, the festival has largely remained true to its origins for almost 90 years, with the millions of blooming flowers and Dutch culture the main focus. Now held over eight days, other events include carnivals, markets, tours, races, art exhibitions, and more.
Among the awards it has received, Readerʼs Digest has named it Americaʼs Best Small Town Festival. It has also won USA Today’s award for Best Flower Festival, and the World Tulip Summit Society designated it the Festival of the Year.
Other Tulip Time honors have included President Gerald R. Ford and his family making an appearance in a parade in 1976. It even received a shoutout from none other than Homer Simpson in a 2005 episode of The Simpsons when he said “I wouldn’t mind taking that to the Holland, Michigan tulip festival” while admiring a new RV.