Most Albanians – i.e., people from Albany, NY – know, the city has been holding the Tulip Festival every May since 1949. This started during the 40+ year reign of mayor Erastus Corning. It is the city’s “signature spring event featuring annual traditions rooted in the City’s rich Dutch heritage.”
We love our tulips in Albany much as they do in Holland, MI. Washington Park is strewn with them every year, different varieties planted at staggered times to maximize the beauty regardless of the vagueries of the 518 spring.
As part of the tradition, started in the Netherlands, young women in costume would ceremonially scrub a street, a small section of State Street, prior to the celebration. It’s a bit kitschy, I know, but I would often watch it when I was working downtown.
My daughter was one of eight people from her high school’s senior class chosen for the task on Friday, May 6. It would involve getting picked up from school at 10:30, participating in a photo session at 11 at City Hall. The ceremony with the mayor is at noon, then symbolic scrubbing of the street until 12:20. Lunch at the mayor’s office, then returning to school by 1:30. We all thought this was rather cool.
But she can’t go. She has her Advanced Placement final in Economics on that very day at noon, and that is inflexible. We’re all a little disappointed that she can’t participate in this Tulip Festival activity.
At the same time, we recognize that she had accomplished quite a bit in her high school, despite the very disruptive COVID interruptions and distance learning. In that senior superlatives thing they still do, she won most artistic, which is no surprise.
I’m looking forward to the final decision on what college she will be attending. That is, I can’t wait, so I can clear out my email inbox. She applied to eight colleges and was accepted at seven. They are all in New York State or New England. Since she has to give them MONEY by May 1, this will be determined VERY soon.
In November, New York State is going to vote on whether there shall be a constitutional convention.
There has been an annual Tulip Festival in Albany on Mother’s Day weekend for decades in Washington Park in Albany. If I go these days, it’s always been on Saturday, because Sunday involved us driving to somewhere south of here to have dinner with my various in-laws.
But THIS year, my parents-in-law were in Florida that weekend, and since the Saturday weather was pretty rotten, we went after church. We listened to some music; Radio Disney’s version of White Room was OK instrumentally, but not so much with the teenage female vocalist. We ate some food, went to some vendors.
How the city gardener gets the various plants to usually come up at just the right time is impressive. My buddy Chuck Miller took some nifty photos of the flowers here and subsequently.
My favorite part is going to the activist ghetto, where the school district, some religious organizations, environmentalists, and more are set up. In November, New York State is going to vote on whether there shall be a constitutional convention. The NY Civil Liberties Union and others, such as the ad hoc No New York Convention.org against it, noting that the LAST time this was held, about 50 years ago, most of the people selected as delegates were sitting politicians. Plus the ideas they came up with were voted down by the voters.
We saw this scene after the Tulip Festival on the way back to the car, in a window on State Street in Albany, the photo taken by the Daughter. It made us wonder about the back story. Who put up the sign first, and was the second sign in response? Are these adjoining apartments, or posters in the same one?
Which reminded me: My friend Sarah and her husband Darin were recently interviewed as part of series on married couples with divergent political views. The producer was particularly interested in the incident in which she unfriended him on Facebook. “Better that way,” she says, and that is certainly true. Oddly, I’m still FB friends with him, but I usually stick with comments about minor league baseball player Tim Tebow.
“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.
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