By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty.
Parades are wacky, wonderful, and nonsensical—and that is just three of the things I love about them.
Every parade is replete with a peculiar set of activities and traditions both whimsical and weird. Parades have existed since the earliest days of civilization, with roots in military and political endeavors. What is perhaps more intriguing is that parades persist. In the 21st century, parades seem a sweet remnant of simpler times, but I suspect there has always been something nostalgic about parades. Once a parade starts, history, tradition, and inevitability converge to propel it infinitely forward.
My own history includes innumerable parades. For years in the Memorial Day parade in my hometown with my Girl Scout Troop; all of the girls dressed in scouting uniforms, carrying flowers to put on the graves of soldiers buried in the local cemetery. Always sentimental, I created a private tradition of placing my flowers on the same grave every year. My nieces and nephews, and children of girls I knew long ago, now walk in that parade, or watch from the sidewalk, hoping to catch some of the candy thrown into the crowd.
Gratifyingly, parades cling to a specific place and time. Traditions are decidedly local. I’ve only ever seen candy thrown at parades in Ohio. Other parades involve different rituals, but giving gifts to the crowd is a frequent practice. Whether stickers or bracelets or beads, useless trinkets are transformed into highly sought-after prizes along a parade route.
From August 2006 and June 2007, I lived in Tampa, Florida, home to two true “event” parades which were the highlight of my time there. Guavaween, a rowdy mardi-gras-like celebration of Halloween, was held in the nightlife enclave of Tampa known as Ybor City. This parade was decidedly adult, with many risqué costumes and others that were truly frightening. I’m glad I witnessed the unbridled mayhem while it lasted. Sadly, the event has been tamed in recent years.
Another terrific Tampa tradition is Gasparilla, with pirate-themed celebrations. Gasparilla is held in January, and includes both a parade of boats in Tampa Bay and two separate parades down the street beside the bay, the accurately named Bay-to-Bay Avenue. Events devoted to this celebration are exciting, with an alcohol-free Children’s parade one week before the alcohol-friendly all-ages version. The main street parade lasts more than two hours, and the onlookers are nearly as engaging as the parade itself.
This summer my getaway to the Pacific Northwest includes stays in Portland and Seattle, a week selected in order to attend a parade in both cities. The day I arrive in Portland, July 23rd, The Oregon Brewers Festival kicks off with—you guessed it: a parade dedicated to beer! The following Saturday, July 26th, I will arrive in Seattle just in time for The Torchlight parade.
A Midwest favorite is the “Cheese Parade,” which I discovered with my Urban Family a few years ago at The Monroe County Wisconsin Cheese Days. All about cheese, the parade is ushered in by a pair of cows that walk down the street while people watch and applaud. Cheese Days are celebrated every other year, most likely to provide plenty of planning and production time for elaborate cheese-themed floats. 2014’s Cheese Days marks the centennial celebration, and, yes, the Urban Family will be there.
Dressing in thematic attire is the playful part of preposterous parade fun. People of all ages wear absurdly ridiculous items to get in the spirit. Temporary tattoos, sparkling headbands, enormous hats, tiny hats, wigs and wings: anything goes at a parade. Dressing pets in costume is also common practice. I’ve seen more than one dog dyed green to match the Chicago River on St. Patty’s Day.
Saturday, March 20, 2014 is the St. Patrick’s Day parade in downtown Chicago. The parade is held on the Saturday before the actual holiday because too many kids miss school if the parade is held on a weekday. The St. Patrick’s Day parade is serious business in Chicago.
Rather miraculously, I have been invited by a colleague to walk with him as he plays in a pipe and drum band in this year’s Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
Have I mentioned that I adore bagpipes?