Everyone loves a parade, as the saying goes. A beloved American tradition, parades evoke fancy floats, flags flying proudly, marchers and baton-twirlers, brass-buttoned bands, and a whole lot of fun, gaiety, and excitement. October is the month for the much anticipated Columbus Day Parade. So what better time to “discover” America’s favorite parades and the fun facts associated with them.
The Rose Parade – Considered America’s New Year celebration, the Tournament of Roses Parade takes place on New Year’s Day in Pasadena, California. The parade that began in 1890 is now watched by hundreds of thousands of spectators, broadcast on nationwide TV, and even seen in more than 200 countries. The parade is famous for its elaborate flower-bedecked floats, equestrians, top marching bands, the famous annual Rose Bowl college football game played at the event, and the Grand Marshalls culled from the day’s top celebrities and news makers. Fun fact: To decorate one float, it takes about 60 workers working 10 hours a day for 10 days!
Presidential Inaugural Parade – Okay, so this happens only every four years. But for sheer spectacle, glamour, and “pomp and circumstance,” there is nothing like it! Held in Washington, DC, of course, the parade spans 1.5 miles of Pennsylvania Avenue, features marchers from the 50 states and the District of Columbia, and is viewed by the incoming president, vice president, their families, and top government and military officials from an enclosed structure. The parade, which originated during the second Jefferson term, is but one part of the all-day inauguration festivities on January 20. Fun fact: First ladies started riding with their husbands in the parade only since 1909. Helen “Nellie” Taft had the honor.
Chinese New Year Parade – Observed by Chinese communities worldwide, the holiday honors deities and ancestors and features themes such as wealth, happiness, and longevity – as well as the color red. It begins on Chinese New Year’s Eve (the last day of the last month on the Chinese calendar) and lasts up day of the first month in the New Year. San Francisco, home to a big Chinese population, has hosted a street celebration since the 1860s. The largest Asian cultural event outside of Asia, it combines American parade traditions with typical Chinese details such as dragons, firecrackers, paper lanterns, and dazzling costumes. Fun fact: The color red and the firecrackers are traditionally meant to preclude evil spirits.
St. Patrick’s Day Parade – Held on March 17, the parade highlights the religious and cultural holiday that honors Ireland’s patron saint. While the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland naturally consider it a public holiday, US cities with a significant Irish population, like New York and Boston, hold yearly celebrations as well. The parade is noted for its massive displays of the color green (pubs are known to offer green beer), the presence of top city officials, and a whole lot of eating and drinking. Fun fact: The original color associated with the holiday was blue! But it became green perhaps due to Ireland’s being known as “The Emerald Isle.”
Mardi Gras – French for Fat Tuesday, a time to indulge in rich foods and good times before Ash Wednesday or the start of the Lenten season, Mardi Gras is a world-famous carnival celebration. While it is held in places other than New Orleans, Louisiana, the “Big Easy,” has the biggest parties and parades. The street parades (there are many) – which feature dancing, masks and costumes, marching bands, elaborate floats (from which beads and trinkets are thrown), and all kinds of revelry – has come to symbolize the city and its nickname. Fun fact: The first Mardi Gras parade was held in Mobile, Alabama in 1703 – 134 years before the first New Orleans parade took place!
Fourth of July Parade – Independence Day is perhaps America’s top secular holiday. And while every town and city hosts its own parade, you can get a head start by joining the Fourth of July Midnight Parade in Gatlinburg, Tennessee – the first Independence Day parade in the nation. This year’s hoopla paid tribute to the men and women of the military and featured bagpipes, balloons, horses, marching bands, special floats, horses, and police and fire-department participants. It was attended by some 100,000 people, many of whom started reserving their spots along the route as early as 7 AM on July 3rd Fun fact: New York, the state with the most fireworks restrictions, also has the most fireworks-related injuries. Go figure…
Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade – A tradition that started in 1924, the three-hour Macy’s-sponsored parade takes place in New York City every Thanksgiving Day. Starting at 9:00 AM at Macy’s flagship Street, the family-friendly event famously features large animal- and other character-shaped balloons. The latest balloon to be introduced – Hello Kitty in 2012. The parade also features live performances by famous musicians and cast members of Broadway shows, the Radio City Rockettes and, of course, Santa Claus in the finale. Fun fact: Felix the Cat was the first character balloon to appear (in 1927). Mickey Mouse was featured in 1934.
Columbus Day Parade – Held on the second Monday of October, the Columbus Day Parade celebrates not just the explorer who discovered the Americas, but also Italian-American heritage, culture and contributions. The parade in New York City takes place on Fifth Avenue from 44th features over 35,000 participants, with bands, floats, and various contingents. Its Grand Marshalls famously include the leading lights of the Italian-American community, including Tony Bennett, Lee Iacocca, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Mario Andretti, and Sofia Loren, among others. It is watched by millions of TV viewers worldwide and over half a million spectators on the street. Fun fact: Columbus was actually looking for Asia when he discovered America. Amerigo Vespucci, who discovered this mistake, gave the country its name.
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