New York City Parades
New York City’s most famous parade is the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, followed by the Easter Parade and St. Patrick’s Day Parade. New York City has hosted festive parades throughout its history, and the pageantry continues to this day. Whenever you visit, chances are you will be able to find a New York City parade. Parades take place in all five boroughs, both on major thoroughfares such as Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue, and more remote venues, such as Brooklyn’s Coney Island. New York City has a parade for everyone. Here are some of our favorites:
St. Patrick’s Day Parade
Fourteen years before the Declaration of Independence was signed, a group of homesick Irish ex-patriots living in NYC, decided to hold a parade celebrating their Hibernian heritage. The year was 1762. During this time, in Ireland, speaking Gaelic was banned in schools. Irish children were literally beaten into speaking English. Wearing green was banned as well. In America, however, these Irish had the freedom to express their national pride. They reveled in the ability to sing Irish songs and play pipes. On March 17, 1762, they showed their pride throughout Lower Manhattan.
The tradition of the NYC St. Patrick’s Day Parade continues to this day. It’s grown a bit since 1762. Approximately 150,000 people marched in the 2023 parade, and an estimated 2 million people watched. The NYC St. Patrick’s Day Parade takes place each year along Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue. NYPD and FDNY units march alongside politicians and high school bands, all celebrating Irish heritage and influence.
Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is the most well-known NYC parade. The very first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade took place in 1924. That very first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade featured employees from Macy’s Herald Square, animals from the Central Park Zoo, and Santa, who sat watching the parade from above. This parade, which was attended by more than 250,000 people, was such a success that it has been repeated every year since.
The famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons made their collective parade debut in 1928. The balloons, which were filled with helium, were released into the air at the end of the parade. If someone found a deflated balloon and returned it, they would be given a prize of approximately $1600 in today’s money. That tradition seems to have run out of air in 1932.
Today, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade steps off from the New-York Historical Society and showcases at its end, on 34th Street, in front of Macy’s Herald Square. An estimated 3 million spectators peeped the parade along the 2.5-mile route, and millions more tuned in on television. Every year, Santa Claus closes out the Parade, ushering in the Christmas Season.
New York City’s Easter Parade began as a bit of a fashion show. Following the Civil War, there was a tradition of a Sunday stroll or walk after a religious service. On Easter, this stroll turned into a fabulous pageant of Manhattan’s elite, marching up and down on Fifth Avenue, in their fanciest clothing. Most of the dresses and hats actually came from Europe, the epicenter of fashion at the time, as far of NYC’s “Society” was concerned. Only the wealthy could afford to go to Europe, or to have their clothing shipped from Europe. In the days before television and the internet, it was watching the fantastic European fashions post-paschal parading along Fifth Avenue, after the Easter Service, that informed the average American woman’s tastes. Dressmakers and milliners were known to line the streets making sketches of the outfits on the display. A few wakes later, those same designs would show up in New York City department stores.
The popularity of the Fifth Avenue Easter Parade grew, and department stores began to join in the festivities, decorating their windows with large floral displays and bunny rabbits. The Fifth Avenue Easter Parade even made it to Broadway. George M. Cohen’s musical The Merry Malones features the iconic hit song, “The Easter Parade.”
To this day, the Easter Parade follows the Easter service at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Those joining in the Easter Bonnet Parade & Festival will often dress up in costumes, some reminiscent of the 1870s when the parade began. Anyone who wants to march is welcome to join. Put on your best Easter bonnet and join in the lavish and fashionable festivities.
If you don an especially over-the-top hat, snap a happy photo and then put it on a Times Square Billboard. Visit timessquarebillboard.com to learn how.
The Mermaid Parade is a highlight of every NYC Summer. Billed as the “nation’s largest art parade” the Mermaid Parade began in 1983. The Mermaid Parade takes place the Saturday closest to the summer solstice in Coney Island, and is supported in part by the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs.
While the Mermaid Parade has the sole aim of giving artists a platform to showcase their work, it is also known for maritime-themed costumes. Spectators will be treated to a glittering procession of floats, and dazzling dancers decked out in extravagant colorful costumes. Various costume contests push the participants’ creativity each year. On any given year you might see characters ranging from Jack Sparrow, to Ariel, to an Octopus, to an eel riding a unicycle. The Mermaid Parade also features an annual King Neptune and Queen Mermaid. The Coney Island Mermaid Parade is the perfect place for anyone who loves glitter, the ocean, and isn’t intimidated by fairly scantily-clad revelers, really creatively coming out of their shells, so to speak….
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