In a city that loves a parade, New York’s Easter Parade is one of its most festive and fun. Unlike Easter rites the world over, NYC’s Easter Parade is secular rather than sacred – a celebration of color, creativity and the rejuvenation of springtime. In fact, the Easter Parade is not even an orderly procession but a jubilant gathering in which participants, pets and performers display their Easter finery (particularly Easter bonnets). The Easter Parade is a street party that celebrates the season, spectacle and outrageous fun.
History of New York’s Easter Parade
New York’s Easter Parade began in the 1880s when the denizens of “Millionaire Row” (Fifth Avenue between 42nd Street and Central Park) left Easter services at grand churches like St. Thomas Episcopal and St. Patrick’s Cathedral and took to the avenue. Promenading in their elegant Easter outfits, the object was to “see and be seen,” displaying one’s affluence and style. A particularly impressive ensemble could land one in the city’s newspaper society pages. By the turn of the 20th century, extravagant ladies’ hats or Easter bonnets became a focus, often broad-brimmed and trimmed with feathers, flowers, and stuffed birds.
As the annual tradition continued, New Yorkers gathered along the avenue to watch the elite strut their stuff and marvel at the fashions. Milliners and dressmakers from all over the country, especially the Lower East Side, flocked to watch and make sketches of the outfits. Like today’s Oscar fashions, department stores produced copies for sale as quickly as possible. The Easter Parade reached its peak in the mid 20th Century when up to a million people came to watch the spectacle.
Long-time New Yorker Irving Berlin celebrated the tradition with his song “Easter Parade” in the 1933 musical revue As Thousands Cheer. The song was the Act One finale; a tableau that recreated a turn-of-the-century Easter Parade. The song became a classic, and inspired the movie musical – Easter Parade, starring Fred Astaire and Judy Garland.
After WWII the Easter Parade experienced decades of decline (like the city itself). It began a resurgence in the 1990s when elements of whimsy started appearing.
Join the Easter Parade
Today, beside elegant outfits the parade features wild costumes, outrageous performers, costumed pets, and over-the-top Easter bonnets covered in flowers, Easter eggs, bunnies, candy, and other symbols of spring. Street performers, food vendors and bands have lately joined the festivities and dance parties sometimes break out on the avenue. Folks from all over the world converge on Fifth Avenue to join the party.
The Easter Parade takes place Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016, on Fifth Avenue from 49th – 57th Streets, approximately 10am – 4pm. There’s no specific organization for the event, and anyone is welcome to join in the fun.
So, grab your Easter bonnet, your camera, and join the parade!