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Dutch event themes brought to life with dazzling flower displays

A look at flower parades in the Netherlands

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

As contradictory as it may sound, flowers are not the key ingredients that hold together the many dazzling Dutch flowers parades scheduled each year throughout the country. Nor do the great majority of these parades have anything to do with tulip growers and the Bollenstreek. In fact, most of these parades were not even founded by organizers aiming to promote flowers and horticulture. But they certainly use flowers in an amazing way.

Well over twenty Dutch communities, mostly located outside the flower growing industry regions, are basing their use of flowers on imaginative and wide-ranging parade themes in ways that may well make floral designers focusing on small jobs green with envy.

A case in point is the small, largely canal-locked community of Belt-Schutsloot, which puts on an annual gondola show that thrives on bright colours, not those created with fresh paint but with fresh flowers, although it does not have a local flower growing industry. A community with a population of fewer than 600 people, Belt-Schutsloot held its 70th annual gondola edition this year, one of the oldest of its kind.

The northwest Overijssel community holds its gondola event in August, along with nearby Giethoorn and Vollenhove, which lies further to the west. In fact, most of the flower parades throughout the country are held in the months of August and September, well beyond the season of the traditional Dutch flowering bulbs of tulips, hyacinths and narcissus.

It is understandable therefore, that observers of the flower parade phenomena, divide these events into two categories, placing some in the traditional flowering bulb section and most others in the dahlia column, the latter usually taking place in areas without strong commercial flower growing interests.

Birthday celebrations

Historians have tried to answer the question why so many of these events are held in the summer. Basically, they point to factors, which do not immediately come to mind today: the pre-1949 August 31 Queens Day (the birthday of Queen Beatrix’ grandmother Wilhelmina) and historic, annual market days. The Queens Day celebrations often were championed by local Orange societies, named after the royal family’s House of Orange. The annual market day coincided in many places with other festivities such as harvest days or fairs.

There are suggestions that some events have evolved from other local festivities, such as the traditional rural ‘boerenbruiloft’ celebrations, farmer’s marriage festivities, usually a community-wide affair to which most, if not all adults, would be invited.


Exceptions confirm the general rule, they say. The annual September parade of Valkenwaard falls in that category. Also a dahlia-based event, it has its roots in the September 17, 1944 Liberation by Allied troops, which included the Prinses Irene Brigade, a unit largely made up of Dutch emigrants who either volunteered or were drafted into service by the Dutch government in exile. The Brabant town, which was the first one to be liberated in the Netherlands as the Allies advanced, started holding annual liberation remembrances in 1946, which soon turned into a full-blown flower parade. Since the early 1950s, it blossomed into a highly professional and community-wide dahlia-based event.