P is for Pinksterfest

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

From the 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 the Wikipedia: “Some time 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 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

0 thoughts on “P is for Pinksterfest”

  1. An interesting post. Some of what you describe is reminiscent of the older celebrations of Whitsuntide in the north of England, Whit being another name for Pentecost.

    Sadly our beautiful tulips were ravaged by strong winds over the weekend!


  2. I just love tulips. Used to plant them but the deer would eat them way before I could cut enjoy them. Went to the flower market last week and was amazed at the colors shapes and varieties tulips come in. I am sorry I will miss your Albany show. I am sure it will be spectacular. Post photos!


  3. I love tulip festivals! We have numerous ones here, but not this year!! Many of the tulips are just not blooming because it’s been so unseasonably chilly for so long! Love your photos! Beautiful place! Have a great week!

    ABC Team


  4. Love that name, – had never heard it before or known that it was a derivative of Pentacost. Tulips are so colourful and beautiful, – it must be a wonderful festival. Enjoy!


  5. The Pinksterfeest or Pinsteren is a religious festivity and celebrated 7 weeks after Easter. Thank you for this extra information, I didn’t know this!


  6. Tulips are beautiful flowers, our council’s gardeners thinks so as well because the roundabouts and parks were full of them (they are just going over now). So interesting to look for the name and find such a history.


  7. Sounds like Pinksterfest would have been great fun, regardless of the color of skin! Tulips are gorgeous flowers, but the deer that roam our neighborhood like them too, so I don’t have any. As usual, another great (and unusual) history lesson.


  8. I’ve never heard of Pinksterfest, I’m always learning something new from your blog, Roger. Love those pictures of the tulips.


  9. If I said ‘fascinating” one more time, would I be over using it here? But, it’s true!! Fascinating. Pinkerfest. I never would’ve made the connection to Pentecost. That’s right in there with the Catherine wheel becoming the pinwheel. “How the heck?”


  10. When I read the word I thought of the German Pfingsten (Pentecoste) Dutch is like a dialect, the words are very similar. Anyway it looks all very pretty !


  11. I consider my self better educated after reading your post. Had not heard of Pinksterfest before. Since Easter’s date changes each year, therefore, so does the Pentacost (50 days after Easter). So, does the current fest date also change annually? The early history of this event sounds a lot like the Roman Saturnalia mixed up with May Day. Yet the Saturnalia fell in December. Coincidence or could there be a connection? See, you got me to thinkin’.


  12. Thank you, Roger, for this history. I had no idea about the Pinkster/Pentecost link, nor that there was anything associated with African-American traditions. Once again, history texts fail us…

    It figures the white men would decide the blacks were “talking treason” instead of simply enjoying their time off, though… too much similar thinking exists today!

    A lovely array of pictures, and as an old Upstate New Yorker, it made me proud to see upstate on display and to have a little history lesson, too! Amy


  13. Roger, you prankster you! with your pinkster-fest once more you ensure that the historians, and the rest of us, remember the roles that all of us played in this American experiment of ours.
    The Dutch heritage of Western Michigan also brought Queen Wilhelmina to Holland, MI, for the annual Tulip Festival.


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