The weirdest thing about our annual pilgrimage to the town where my wife grew up was the realization that we weren't just going back to make fun of the Dutch people (like we always used to); No, we were going back because we enjoy the festival. I mean, we had actually been looking forward to it this year. My wife spent a week curled over her sewing machine preparing the kids new outfits. Meanwhile, I scoured Dutch eBay for depression-era wooden clogs and traditional hats. After an unusually warm Spring, we worried out loud that most of the six million tulips would be long gone before we got there. Just a few years ago I secretly cheered for the teenagers who turned their passenger-side car doors into 35 MPH guillotines, lopping off the heads of an entire block of flowers, risking hefty fines and the clucking of the village elders. Now why did I ever think that was funny? I wondered this year, admiring a row of flaming Keizerskroons along Central Ave. These flowers are beautiful! Then one of the motor-coaches that takes tourists down the tulip lanes passed by, its windows filled with Wilford Brimley lookalikes sharing my affection for brightly-colored tunicate bulbs, and I sat back down on the davenport with an afghan draped over my lap, wondering whether there's a cheaper way to get testing supplies for my diabetus.

I suppose I would have been a bit more fired up if we'd made it to Holland a day earlier, when favorite son Erik Prince received a standing ovation at a sold-out Tulip Time luncheon. Prince's father started an auto parts supplier in Holland that made the lighted vanity mirrors in your mom's 1982 Pontiac Bonneville. The younger Prince started Blackwater, the company whose goons running amok in Iraq gave bloodthirsty mercenaries a bad name. With the fortune he inherited from Papa Vanity Mirrors and his own war profits, Prince has become important member of the secretive cabal of conservative Christian billionaires from Western Michigan who have their fingers on the strings of all the right political puppets. To have a divisive figure like Erik Prince greeted so warmly at Tulip Time says a lot about how deep the conservative roots of the community run, all the way back to those original Calvinist separatist founders who chose Holland, Michigan as the place where they could prosper far away from Jews, Papists, and Belgians. There is no doubt that this town is still full of their progeny, and the Tulip Time advertisers know who they're primarily marketing to:

But Holland is also a town where a lot of good manufacturing jobs were available over the past quarter century. The agricultural industry in the region long ago brought Hispanic immigration (now 22 percent of the population) but the factory jobs have brought all kinds of other people to Holland who want to do crazy things like spend the money they earn and drink alcohol occasionally, you know: people who don't just assume Erik Prince's vast wealth is a sign of God's love for him. With all these new factory workers, engineers, retirees, and others coming to this town, some of the Dutch people are even learning to lighten up. Last year an ancient blue law was repealed and stores and restaurants were allowed to sell and serve alcohol on Sunday for the first time in anyone's memory. Some stores are even open downtown on Sunday now. If this keeps up, by 2072 there will be a gay pride parade down Eighth Street. This is your future, Dutchies. If you don't like it, move to Drenthe.

(Drenthe, Michigan's civic motto: "No gay pride parades, ever")

[this is a long post with a lot of pictures, so I'm breaking it up. If you want to read the whole thing and see pictures of the kids in their Dutch outfits, click here]

It used to be the only Asian people you'd ever see in Holland were Korean kids adopted by Dutchies through the Christian Reformed church (my Korean college roommate from Holland was the Dutchest person I've ever known). Now there is a large Southeast Asian population in Holland, and families from other parts of Asia have moved there for jobs. All in all, Holland is changing, and it's a good thing. One of the greatest pleasures of the festival is seeing all the kids from so many different cultural backgrounds dressed up like 19th-century Dutch peasants:

This diversity is most evident during the Thursday children's parade, when kids walk with their school classes in costume. Even the high school kids too cool to dress up can't hide from it: the high school mascot is the "Dutch," and its band famously marches in wooden shoes.  

This year, we watched a lot dancing. At some point during the all this dancing, my wife turned to me and said, "I used to come down here to make fun of this. But now I like it, a lot. Synchronized dancing in giant wooden shoes? What's not to love?" She tells me she wants to learn to Klompen dance. It's a kind of Stockholm Syndrome (Rotterdam Syndrome?) I suppose: I've been making her come down and see it for so many years that she has started to sympathize with these poor women, and now wants to become one of them:

I tell her that's fine, as long as she shortens the skirt and shows some cleavage, but she tells me there is some kind of inspector who won't let you dance unless your dress is just so. Just as she was getting really wound up about dancing, we saw a Dutch dancer getting gurneyed into an ambulance. See, I said. Dutch dancing is dangerous.

I wondered what happened. Top-ten Dutch dancing injuries: (10) Klompen-hoof; (9) Clog-in-the-eye; (8) Slaapnuts; (7) the overextended windmill; (6) De houten spleten; (5) gender confusion; (4) twisted ankles; (3) doily chafing; (2) second thoughts; (1) splinters. I'll bet that poor girl didn't bring enough sandpaper to conduct proper Klompen maintenance.

Now there are some well-maintained Klompen.

There was a dude there who looked like Mr. McFeely who was all, "Just give me a block of firewood and I'll build you a shoe, friend!"

See, I'm already feeling guilty for making fun of Klompen. Every time I'd try to sneak a photo the dancers would say, "We don't bite, we can pose if you'd like." And I could hardly admit, "Yeah, but as soon as I get home I am going to put these on my stupid mommy blog to make fun of you."

It rained most of the time we were there:

But even in the rain, the Klompen must go on:

I guess part of it is that I'm old enough now to look at these high school girls dancing and picture my own daughter doing something this silly and not wanting to make fun of it, as easy as it would be. But you don't really give a shit about my ethical Tulip Time dilemmas, do you? If you're still reading this at all it's because you want to see cute pictures of the kids in their new outfits, am I right? Well, I dare not disappoint:

The reaction shot:

More old lady love:

Yeah, that's pretty much how it was every time they went out in costume. I'm hoping the wife will write a post about making these outfits with a lot more pictures, but here are a few more to give you an idea:

Obligatory tulip-sniffing shot:

The kids klomped all around town in their wooden shoes without a complaint, right down to the carnival where their Nana bought them tickets for every ride they were tall enough to go on:

Of course, her mom had to show her up just when the girl learned to do bungee-assisted back flips:

Some hillbillies kept shoving this marmot in the kids' faces; I'm not sure if they were marmot peddlers or what, but the kids did not object.

I think my son's favorite moment came when he realized they'd blocked off the main street from vehicular traffic and he could run down the middle of it screaming about monster spiders or something:

Either that, or the Olliebollen:

This year really was different. We hardly giggled at the Delftware souvenirs or mocked the Goudamongers. We've lost our edge, people. We're getting old. My wife spent most of the time talking about the costume she would make for herself next year and trying to convince me to let her make one for me. I told her, truthfully that it would be a wasted effort. There's a reason most of the Dutch men you see at Tulip Time are actually women. Dutch men's costumes violate every sartorial crime in the book: double-breasted shirts, neckerchiefs, dickeys, extremely baggy pants, and clogs. It's no wonder the Dutch pretty much dominated the 17th Century. It's hard not to underestimate a guy in baggy knickers and wooden clogs.

Besides, I said, think about how many people who read the blog would love to see a photo of me dressed like that? Half of them would probably explode with Schadenfreude, and you know I could never hurt so many people who mean so much to me.