P is for Pinksterfest

“The annual celebration began on the morning of the Monday following…Pentecost…While the majority of the Dutch population attended early mass, African-American slaves and Euro-American servants would congregate on the hill by the ‘thousands’ and await the arrival of the Pinkster King…”


This coming weekend, Albany, NY is having its 63rd Annual Albany Tulip Festival. It will be held in historic Washington Park. “The tradition stems from when Mayor Erastus Corning 2nd got a city ordinance passed declaring the tulip as Albany’s official flower on July 1, 1948. In addition, he sent a request to Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands to name a variety as Albany’s tulip…She picked the variety ‘Orange Wonder’…”

The event kicks off on Friday with a special musical program on City Hall’s historic 49-bell carillon at 11:30 a.m. Then at noon, there will be “the traditional Dutch practice of scrubbing the streets,” which frankly still fascinates me. Saturday features the coronation of the Tulip Queen, plus performers and vendors on both Saturday and Sunday. The whole schedule is here. The greatest challenge involves getting the majority of the bulbs to be in bloom that weekend, not too early or too late, despite unpredictable weather. The strategy in recent years has been to plant different types of tulips with varying blooming times.

At the same time, the term “pinksterfest” has ALSO used for the weekend, more or less synonymously, but not quite. So I needed to track this down.

From Wikipedia: “Pinkster is a spring festival, taking place in late May or early June. The name is a variation of the Dutch word Pinksteren, meaning ‘Pentecost'”

More useful, though, was THIS article by Matthew Shaughnessy from 2010: “…by the 19th century, it was the most important holiday of African-American slaves who lived in Dutch settlements from the Hudson Valley down to New York City…In Albany, during the week preceding Pinkster, slaves, and servants—both of African and European ancestries—gathered to set up camp, sing, and play music through the use of a large, skin-covered drum on Pinkster Hill. Individual encampments or ‘airy cottages’ were constructed by weaving branches and shrubs through a series of stakes that were vertically implanted into the ground covering the hill. Just upon celebration, the camps were stocked with beer and liquor as well as an assortment of food, including fruits and cakes.


“The annual celebration began on the morning of the Monday following…Pentecost…While the majority of the Dutch population attended early mass, African-American slaves and Euro-American servants would congregate on the hill by the ‘thousands’ and await the arrival of the Pinkster King, who was referred to as ‘King Charles.’ By all accounts, King Charles was an elderly member of the slave community, perhaps a patriarchal figure of some sort.”

The article goes into some detail about the goings-on.

Again from Wikipedia: “Sometime between 1811 and 1813 despite or perhaps because of its popularity, the city of Albany, New York passed a city ordinance banning the drinking and dancing associated with Pinkster. Whites were concerned that the congregation and socialization of large groups of African Americans could provide them with the opportunity to plot or plan a revolution. Some historians believe the council wanted to eliminate Pinkster because it didn’t appeal to the burgeoning middle class, pointing to the fact that the law was eventually overturned, which would contradict the motivation of preventing uprisings.”

Shaughnessy: “For one week a year, the strictures of everyday society were relaxed. Work was momentarily forgotten. Those at the bottom of the society, namely slaves and servants but also women and children, reversed the existent social hierarchy. For the remainder of the week, slaves and servants engaged in a variety of sports and increasingly commercialized forms of entertainment, which, according to a later account published in 1867, were exceedingly popular among white children. There were exhibitions of exotic animals, circus-riding, clowns, and the apparent highlight of the festival: the ‘Toto.’ While the Toto was a dance performed exclusively in the West African tradition of loud drumming and singing, its hybrid during Pinkster combined European and African steps. In addition, slaves sold herbs, roots, and shellfish in carts decorated with flowers, especially [Pentecost] azaleas…” At some point during the run of the Tulip Festival, the Pinksterfest name was absorbed.

ABC Wednesday – Round 8