The walk-in freezer weather NYC has been going through most of February finally broke just in time for the 16th annual celebration of the Chinese Lunar New Year. This is the most important and celebrated of all the Chinese holidays and brings families together. Parade organizers, Better Chinatown, always do great job organizing the festivities. As usual, the pre-parade festivities start on Mott and Hester Sts. in Chinatown. Politicians and parade VIPs all greet the crowd and make proclamations and wish everyone a happy New Year. When all the well wishes were done, the people on the VIP float dangled lettuce on a pole to appease the Dancing Lions. The lions “eat” the lettuce and then throw it back to the crowd for good luck and prosperity. Then the fun starts with the parade kicking off down Mott St. where the narrow streets made the clang and drum beat reach higher decibel levels. The thousands of revelers that lined the parade route really got into it when the Staten Island Lions led the first group of marchers. More traditional dancing arrived when Chinese Folk Yanko Dance Group of female dancers showed off their moves. A parade favorite from the World Journal group arrived with the double dragons swerving their way through the parade route. The kids loved it. This was a fun way to kick off the parade season then off to my favorite restaurant Wo-Hop…wahoo.
The overcast chilly weather couldn’t stop the millions of spectators to come out early Thanksgiving Day and watch the many great balloons, the hundreds of themed clowns, a fine cast of celebrities, and some of the best marching bands in the country perform. Celebrating the 88th annual Macys Thanksgiving Parade included a star filled line-up with the likes of Nick Jonas, William Blake, Idina Menzel, rock legends KISS and a whole host of other music performers. Televised globally, the parade is the precursor to the upcoming holiday season. The beginning of the parade this year showcased the largest marching of the parade coming in from Western Carolina University with hundreds of band members getting the crowd worked up for what would be a fun-filled day.
The first float to appear was Tom the Turkey float with this years first celebrity, cooking personality Sandra Lee. But most people had their sights on the first of many large balloons to float on by. Thomas the Tank Engine made his first appearance in the parade followed by more celebrity filled floats and some great marching bands. The Bahamian All Star Marching Band really made a splash at the parade. A new float celebrating baseball was a big hit since it displayed a large screen with cameras focused on parade spectators. The Hello Kitty balloon got the kids worked up for a favorite celebrity, Nick Jonas. The Paddington Bear balloon was also new to the parade and really looked detailed with soft hair. A definite show stealer were the Red Hot Mamas trying to give the Rockettes a run for their money. The next hour was the best part of the parade with huge balloons making kids from 2 to 99 say a great big Wow. One of the most impressive was newcomer Red Power Ranger coming to the rescue. One of the biggest balloons brought many smiles and some scary faces if your afraid of big black dragons that is. Newcomer Erupter from Skylanders was pretty cool to look at. Then everyone’s favorite creepy crawler floated by ready to weave a web and catch the bad guys. Superhero Spiderman looked ready to take on any villain.
One of the best pairings of the parade was when legendary rock band Kiss was on a float just before the Finn and Jake balloon. The scary look on Finn’s face might have been because Kiss terrified him. One of the better bands came in from Georgia State University and they really got the crowd worked up with a crazy drummer getting into their version of the Neil Diamond classic, Sweet Caroline. The parade theme started to change from Thanksgiving to Christmas with the Foothills Falcons Marching Band playing themed music and some floats and balloons that got everyone waiting in anticipation for the grand finale. But first one of most impressive of all bands which was not really a band wowed the crowd. The all-male Madison Scouts Drum and Bugle Corp. showed why they are one of the premier drum and bugle corps in the nation. All the kids got excited when their favorite cartoon character left his pineapple home under the sea, none other than SpongeBob Squarepants. Having the best time of any group were the Elves jumping up and down with lots of energy getting ready to introduce the main man, Santa Claus. I lost count of how many adults took selfies with Santa in the background. Everywhere I looked there were smiles galore and kids waving for his attention even the big kids.
This year’s menu of parades was amazing… beginning with the fortunate Chinese Lunar New Year (missed a major snowstorm by a day), the oldest parade in the country; St. Patrick’s Day parade, the young but vibrant Dance parade, the loud and proud Puerto Rican and Dominican parades, the loving LBGT Pride parade, the whacky Mermaid parade, the largest and most colorful Labor Day parade, the insightful African-American parade, the cultural Hispanic and spicy Italian Heritage parade, the scariest Halloween parade, the Nation’s Veterans parade and breathtaking Thanksgiving parades were a continuing preservation of culture, history and creativity of the greatest city on the planet. It was my honor and privilege to witness and chronicle these important events. First I wanted to give thanks to the parade organizers for their tireless work in making these parades possible. Thanks to the hundreds of thousands of volunteers and marchers, especially the marching bands. Thanks to the NYPD for keeping everyone safe. And especially thanks to you the reader for keeping this blog going.
The parade route along 6th Ave in the Village was filled with hundreds of thousands of night crawlers anticipating the start of the biggest Halloween party in the country. Now celebrating its 41st year, the parade has grown into international notoriety with groups coming in from Spain and Mexico just to march up and make it a hell of a party. As usual, the parade started with angels imparting blessings to the massive crowd while spreading their magical pixie dust. The once busy commercial 6th Ave. would be transformed to a place of enchantment and horror all in a few hours of sheer madness. One of the many reasons the parade is so popular are the many puppets displayed at the beginning of the parade… from skeletons with Beats headphones to scary pumpkins to multi-colored 30 ft. snakes offering apples to the crowd. The puppets were truly amazing and got the crowd worked up for what would be a thrilling night. This years theme of the Garden of Earthly Delights was presented right after the skeleton puppets when some butterfly puppets and a variety of garden flowers, mushrooms, and plants made way for the largest puppet of the parade…the Tree of Life. Master puppeteers Alex Kahn and Sophia Michahelles went all out this year with this years theme. What made it even more impressive was adding the combination of the smoking hot all-female drum band Batala with their rhythmic beat. Well played.
All you need is a costume to march in the parade but New Yorkers just don’t put on any costume and call it a day. New Yorkers once again showed their creativity with some of the scariest and craziest costumes found anywhere in the country and I have the pictures to prove it. But the parade is not just about costumes. It’s a huge party with lots of marching bands and dancing. One of the dancing groups that got the crowd worked up was the Broadway Bodies dancers. They got the crowd worked up for a crowd favorite…the Thriller dance group. They killed it this year. A special treat this year was the Day of the Dead commemoration float with memorials of those shining stars that passed on this year. Following right behind was this years Grand Marshall, Whoopi Goldberg, waving to all her fans. One of the better party floats got the crowd worked up with their club music even after I was attacked by a crazy zombie nurse.
A marching band that came all the way from Puebla, Mexico set the tone for the wildest float of the parade with aliens playing and dancing to swing. They were one of the best parts of the parade. The Star Wars Jedi club broke out their lightsabers and dueled their way up 6th Ave. They were soon followed by Darth Vader and the Princess with a few Sandpeople in the mix. The locally televised event was a big hit this year with lots of energy and lots of fun had by all. Scare ya next year.
Following the previous days celebration of Hispanic culture on 5th Ave., Columbus Day was a day to celebrate Italian heritage and contribution to the city and to America. Since it was an official vacation day there were hundreds of thousands of revelers eager to see fancy cars and their friends marching in some of the best local high school and collegiate marching bands in the tri state area. This being an election year, plenty of politicians were gathered to gain support for the upcoming elections including Italian descendant, NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo. After parade VIPs and politicians marched up the parade route from 45th to 69th Sts., the fun started with Italian cars and plenty of Italian groups representing their heritage. A float with speakers blaring Sinatra’s New York, New York made me feel like I was in Yankee Stadium after a Yankees win. It was always a treat to see Italian police officers and firemen showing a kindred spirit with their counterparts from New York.
One of the better show marching bands came in blaring their loud horns and tight drumline. Stoney Brook U Seawolves made an impressive appearance to get the crowd worked up for a fun-filled day. Fighting back to be heard over a loud float blasting Volare and other Italian-American classic hits, the enthusiastic XFactor Drumline from Mt. Vernon NY showed why they are a crowd favorite. They got some competition when the drumline from Dover, NJ made their way down the parade route. Not everyone agreed with the benefits of Christopher Columbus landing on America. Parade protester, native American Eagle Sun, carried signs expressing his protest over the celebration and urged to have it changed to Native American Day as an honor to his ancestors. I have joined the movement to change the name of the parade to the Italian Heritage Parade and not celebrate a pillager and character responsible for the beginning of genocide on this continent. Italians have been an integral thread in the fabric of this great city since the Great Immigration movement from the 1870s to 1920s and helped create small and large businesses and some of the best cuisine the city offers. The connection to the motherland, Italy, has always been a major theme of this parade and many groups displayed signs mashing the two flags, Italian and American.
This parade is also a prelude to the many top bands set to appear in next months Veterans and Thanksgiving Day parades. A top band appearing were from Connetquat HS from Bohemia, NY. They set the tone for the rest of the day. A band that stole the hearts of many viewers were the first autistic marching band ever to appear. Another band that made some noise were from North Hunterdon, NJ. A show band that made the crowd smile came from Clifton HS marching band. Their march made them appear to part of a Christmas story. The marching band from Brewster NY were one of the happiest bands to play. Italian marchers dressed in medieval costumes gave the viewers a feel for what things may have been like in Italy during the Renassaince Era. They were fun to talk to event though we understand each other, so I just gave them the universally understood thumbs up for a great costume. This was a fun parade and it was great to see multi-generational Italians have a blast at the parade.
The celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month culminated with the 50th annual Hispanic Day Parade lined up on 5th Ave. from 38th to 78th Sts. This year’s version displayed a wide variety of colorful costumes and enthusiastic dancing from all the different Hispanic countries in Central and South America and the Caribbean islands under Spanish influence from colonial times. As always the first group to march was from Spain wit their fancy flamenco dancers and State Police representatives. A parade staple from Casa Galicia played the bagpipes to get the crowd warmed up for what would be a spectacular day of Hispanic culture. The parade usually goes in alphabetical order with Argentina leading the way but I guess the groups from Paraguay had to leave early and jumped the line as they were the first ones to march after the Spain contingency. They were abit on the unusual side with lovely ladies balancing glass bottles on their head.
Argentina added to their usual tango dancers float with more traditional dancing. Bolivia has one of the largest groups in the parade as they have such a variety of dancers to display. First are the tinkus, then the morenales and then the high energy caporales from Virginia with their shiny cowboy costumes and bells on their boots. Speaking of cowboys…the Chileans dressed up their young children in cowboy costumes while the girls wore traditional costumes. Another large group were the Colombians with their colorful costumes and cumbia dancers. One group had an usual costume as though they were clowns from the netherworld. Costa Rica was known for their majestic Arabian horses doing their signature gallop as though they were dancing to the music. The Caribbean representatives danced their way up in Cuba and the Dominican Republic soon followed by the large group from Ecuador. El Salvador had one of the better bands based out of Washington DC to appear up the parade route. A large float with costumed characters came from the Guatemalan group. One float of note and appeared for the first time was that of the Hispanic Muslim women.
Halfway through the parade, Honduras marched up with a band from Las Vegas soon to be followed by the large group from Mexico including traditional Mexican dancers, a marching band from Puebla, Mexico and the energetic chinelos dancers. More Central Americans appeared with a small group from Nicaragua followed by another large group from Panama with their beloved marching bands from Panama City. Rounding out the parade were the groups from Peru with their traditional dancers and the rhythmic and scantily clad dancers from Uruguay. Oh and I can’t forget the Venezuelans. They had a small group to represent. Anyone that stayed for the 4 hour parade was certainly treated to the many aspects of Hispanic culture. One of the best parts was when the flag of the Latin American nations was displayed. United by a common language, Hispanics showed that there is strength in diversity.
The hint of a crisp fall early October Sunday was setting of the 78th annual Pulaski Day Parade along 5th Ave where thousands of Polish descendants came out to wave their red and white flags. Polish people sang and danced polka in celebration of the great General Pulaski and Polish contribution to the city and to America. Everywhere you looked there were traditional costumes and traditional dancing. The Polish people are very devoted to Pope John Paul II and many floats displayed his image. Many groups from the tristate area represented the majority of the marchers. The first hour of the parade had many towns and marching bands from New Jersey from Garfield to Jackson, NJ. Connecticut sent groups from Hartford and surrounding areas followed by the local groups mostly from Greenpoint in Brooklyn.
This year the parade organizers celebrated the 70th year of the Warsaw Uprising when the Polish army successfully revolted against Nazi Germany during World War II. One of the loudest parts of the parade was when about 400 bikers from the Unknown Biker Club roared up 5th Ave. A definite crowd favorite was when a Polish Folk Dance Group from Houston Texas danced traditional polka. They were fun but outdone by a local group of the Polish American Folk Dance Company. They had some really nice dance moves and brought smiles to plenty of folks watching. Displaying more modern Polish vibes was a group from NJ with their Polish rock music that got the young crowd worked up. Each town represented had their own Miss Polonia and each one was more beautiful than the next. I have to admit the Polish people do love their fancy classic cars and some were quite impressive, especially my personal favorite, the Duesenburg. There was even a Mercedes-Benz classic with advertising for perogis. Heck I was looking for some delicious perogis but they weren’t offering any. Oh well. Next year. The Polish people love their country, customs, traditions and it was shown for all to see on 5th Ave. POLISH POWER.
Billed as the largest African American Day parade in the country, this past Sundays salute to African American heritage, culture and contribution to America was alive and kicking in high gear. Although the parade was competing with the largest People’s Global Climate March in the world, the streets were still lined up with thousands of revelers looking to see marchers, dignitaries, and some of the best steppers from around the country. The 45th annual parade always sends positive messages to the community and more importantly brings awareness of injustices that have happened. Banners demanding an end to police brutality and a demonstration set for October to protest police tactics were prevalent. This was also a day for celebration as many unions participated to show unity and strength in the face of a wave of efforts to block and weaken workers on a national level. Mayor deBlasio was well received for his efforts to reach contractual agreements with union workers, one the previous administration had difficulty doing. The Rev. Al Sharpton and Mayor David Dinkins were applauded for all their hard work to bring a voice to those that have suffered some injustice.
Then the fun started when he first of several steppers arrived. The Baltimore Westsiders showed off their moves to the grandstand at 125th and Frederick Douglas Blvd. The Yoruba African group danced their way up the parade group with some unusual costumes. Ironically they were followed by the Christian Warrior Marching band. They were pretty good. One of the steppers with the cutest kids were the Mission Drum and Bugle Corp. The little girls in their 50s throwback costumes brought smiles to the faces of many in the crowd. The various motorcycle clubs roared up the parade route while the ladies in bonnets brought some fashion to the party. Getting the crowd warmed up some more were the Citywide Goldstarz with their energetic leader and the Marching Elite with their jazzy style. A new addition to the parade were a hometown stepping group that really worked the crowd with their tight moves. The Marching Cobras set the tone for the rest of the parade and were the benchmark for other groups to follow. The acrobatic FAO-TOR group kept the energy level on high showing off their cheerleader moves. The Baltimore Showstoppers lived up to their billing and gave the crowd a thrill with the great choreography and booming marching band. They tore it up. Closing out the steppers was a dynamic group from Baltimore…Mass Destruction, yeah they killed it. Their high energy and focus was unmatched. Once again the parade was a major success and was a fine display of African-American pride, culture, unity and strength.