A brief history:
Why parades haven’t been trampled by the march of time.
A parade is a jubilation and a drag, the best of humanity and the worst. A parade is the feeling that we’re all part of one big glorious family with more to unite us than divide us. It is also the feeling of a desperate bladder without a toilet in sight. You’re either a parade person, or you aren’t. Reba Patterson is a parade person. She was wearing Caps pajama pants out in public Tuesday, standing on a roaring ventilation platform to view the Stanley Cup parade on Constitution Avenue. Last time she was able to do something like this was 26 years ago, when the Redskins won the Super Bowl. A parade, for her, is a sweet release of pent-up jollity.
“We need this,” said Patterson, 51, a diet technician at Virginia’s Fort Belvoir. “I like being around a lot of people. I used some annual leave to be out here, thank you very much. It’s a perfect day! Electric. Okay?” Okay. We live in parade central, after all. “Washington, D.C., is a place where we hold a parade almost every weekend,” D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham told WTOP this week. “This is something we do and we do very well.”
In the span of 72 hours, Washington hosted two mammoth parades: on Saturday the annual Pride
“A parade is communal. You’re physically engaged, sensorially, in a way that you’re not when you’re typing on the Internet.” Jack Santino, professor of folklore and popular culture at Bowling Green State University
Parade, a riot of rainbow; and then the first-ever Caps championship parade, a red sea straight out of Exodus.
It’s work to watch a parade. The standing. The shifting. The sunstroke.
It’s more work to be in a parade.
“For me it’s an adventure,” said Charles Roth, who walked backwards for much of the Pride Parade’s 1.5-mile route, as artistic director of D.C.’s Different Drummers marching band. “A lot of people don’t think of marching band as a sport. But when you put the pieces together — marching technique to keep a solid sound, reading music at the same time, having to think of breathing and air support — that’s not an easy endeavor.”
Three thousand years ago, priests in Egypt lugged statues of deities through the streets of Thebes during a yearly festival honoring the goddess Opet.
This Saturday at Coney Island, crowds of revelers will dress up as sea creatures and process along Surf Avenue to the beach.
“When I made up the name ‘Mermaid Parade’ — even before the first parade — people were laughing at the absurdity that mermaids can’t march,” said Dick Zigun, who founded the Mermaid Parade in 1984 to help firm up the identity of Coney Island. “They don’t have feet. And to me that’s a good sign that I was onto something.”
The first known usage of the word “parade” in print was around 1656, the same year that “bloated,” “misogyny” and “starstudded” entered the lexicon. The word appears in some interpretations of the Book of Isaiah (“They parade their sin like Sodom . . .”) but is not readily found in Shakespeare, where “procession” and “march” pop up instead.
In 1852, nearly 6,000 firemen walked along Arch Street in Philadelphia, paused at one point to put out a stable fire, and then resumed their parade. In 1918, the city held a parade to advertise war bonds, and the close proximity of sneezy spectators accelerated an outbreak of the deadly Spanish flu.
The first ticker-tape parade in New York happened in 1886, for the dedication of the Statue of Liberty, and there have been more than 200 since — to herald Teddy Roosevelt’s return from an African safari in 1910, to welcome the shah of Iran in 1949 and to congratulate Althea Gibson for winning Wimbledon in 1957.
As 2.5 tons of paper floated down from skyscrapers during a parade after the 1969 moon landing, astronaut Neil Armstrong saw a spectator holding a sign he would remember: “Through you we touched the moon.”
“A parade is communal,” says Jack Santino, a professor of folklore and popular culture at Bowling Green State University. “You’re physically engaged, sensorially, in a way that you’re not when you’re typing on the Internet. It also gives one a sense that they’re active rather than passive. You’re making a statement. You’re not just watching the Capitals game; you’re out there supporting them physically. And you’re constructing identity. ‘ I am Irish American because here I am marching in this parade with my fellow Irish Americans on St. Patrick’s Day.’ ”
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade began in 1924 because the company’s immigrant employees wanted to celebrate their new home. Now it is a parade of corporate advertising and crosspromotional flimflam.
“Most parades still celebrate a war victory, an ethnic or religious holiday, or else they have a commercial purpose — like wanting you to go buy toys for Christmas presents,” says Zigun, the Mermaid Parade founder. “So the idea of a parade that exists just for the delight of parading is still fairly unique.”
It’s enough to make you shop online for a seashell bra.
The president is a parade person. He was a grand marshal in the Salute to Israel Parade in New York in 2004. He wore a sash with gold lettering.
“NYC should hold a parade for returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans,” he tweeted in 2011.
In 2014 the Trump hotel in New York advertised deals to view the Macy’s parade from Central Park West, starting at $1,400 a night.
Two months before Donald Trump’s election, a cavalry of senior citizens in golf carts paraded in his honor through the Villages, a gargatuan retirement community in Florida.
Patriotism “is one of the greatest assets” of the community, a woman in a flag vest told Fox News, and “it’s also a grand excuse for a parade.”
Last year Trump was enchanted by the Bastille Day parade in Paris — where French President Emmanuel Macron motored around the Arc de Triomphe in an army vehicle escorted by a herd of horses — and called it one of the greatest parades he’s ever seen.
“We’re going to have to try to top it,” he said.
Trump’s parade hasn’t happened yet. There is talk of planning it around Veteran’s Day. There remain concerns that 70ton tanks would crack Pennsylvania Avenue.
On Sunday, New York had its National Puerto Rican Day Parade, though current events tilted it toward a march — which is a parade plus politics and anger. The route allowed marchers to flip the bird at Trump Tower.
“The parade should be a celebration,” one woman told the New York Times. “Not a protest.”
“This parade needs to be furious,” said another, not “happy.”
Can a parade be a march? Let’s say no. It also cannot be a rally, because a rally doesn’t necessarily move. A parade needs somewhere to go. A parade without movement is just a mob. There was a reason that the huge thing on Jan. 21, 2017, wasn’t called the Women’s Parade. The white nationalists in Charlottesville? Not a parade, even with the cute tiki torches and the role-play costuming.
Parades can get ugly. Several years ago, during a Carnival parade in Haiti, 16 people were electrocuted when a float came into contact with a power line. In 2004, an actor playing Pluto was run over by a float at Disney World.
“We think very few guests saw it, if any,” a Disney spokesman told the Orlando Sentinel.
Even absent death, a parade always devolves. It turns into sunburns and impatience. It becomes litter. In 1991, after Patriot missiles were paraded down Constitution Avenue to celebrate the end of Operation Desert Storm, the crowd of 800,000 left behind 1.2 million pounds of trash, including at least one toupee.
On Saturday, three hours into the Pride Parade on Saturday, 14th Street NW was strewn with advertisements for Tito’s vodka — thousands of tiny paper squares imprinted with #lovetitos, but it was hard to do so, at that hour, when alcohol had seeped from the bloodstream to the brain.
And as soon as the Stanley Cup passed 12th Street NW at 12:26 p.m. Tuesday, another parade began: The quick-footed retreat of spectators, moving en masse and in unison. To work. To sit. To lunch. To pee.
The Capital Pride Parade moves along 17th Street NW on Saturday.
Loiza Renace drummers and dancers participate in New York’s Puerto Rican Day Parade on Sunday.
Spectators line the route of Saturday’s Capital Pride Parade as it moves along P and 17th streets NW.