The Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

Me: Could you tell me about the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival? Was it always a festival or was it originally just… tulips! (Fakes jazz hands)

Informant:  When I was in high school, there was no festival. In fact, the tulips themselves were considered waste, because it was from the Washington Bulb Company. They grew the tulips to get the bulbs. They didn’t want the flowers. In fact, they wanted you to come and take the flowers. So, for… student elections, which normally happened around when all the flowers were blooming, we’d go out with garbage bags, and take all of the blooms off the tops of the flowers. Snip off just the buds, put them in garbage bags, and you’d have a whole truck full of garbage bags of just blossoms, no stems, and take it back to school and you could write your name in blossoms, giant piles of blossoms, on the front lawn. So you’d come into school and your name would be spelled out in flowers. Every year. Call them up, and say, “Where should I go to get my blooms?” And they’d tell you which field was in bloom, and you’d go and fill up your truck full of – literally, full of just blossoms.

Me: When did it become an actual festival?

Informant: After I left high school. I was in college. I wasn’t really around. The Chamber of Commerce just decided. Trying to make people come. 

Me: Is there anything associated with the festival or is it just a festival in name?

Informant: No, there are activities that go on the entire month. Probably the best one is the salmon barbeque. The local Kiwanis club hosts a salmon barbeque every weekend – maybe even every night – during the tulip festival. The salmon is actually caught by the members of the Kiwanis club. So that’s good. You just go and have a nice dinner. They get hundreds of salmon, probably go through dozens a night, and they build a giant barbeque out of wood. There are guys who are just in charge of getting the firewood to fire the giant pits where they barbeque the salmon. You eat salmon, coleslaw, corn, and baked potatoes. Potatoes from the farms nearby, corn… ehhhhh… depends on the year. 

My informant is my father. He is in his mid-fifties, and grew up in a rural farm town in Washington State called Burlington, which is the home of the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, the festival described in the above piece. I grew up going to see the tulips every year with my parents and my whole extended family, so the festival is quite important to me as well.

I’ve attended the tulip festival almost every year for as long as I can remember, even if it was just to drive by and see the huge fields of tulips. It’s one of my favorite things about being from Washington state, getting to go to this tulip festival. The salmon barbeques are a huge community gathering, and it’s a chance to see your entire extended family, all of their friends, all of their friends’ extended family, and so on and so forth. Even if you don’t live there, you feel like a member of the community. The festival itself is very important to me, and I had to miss it this year due to the pandemic, which is devastating.