The Parade Throughout History: An Interesting Caravan
by Marjorie Dorfman
Leadership involves finding a parade and getting in front of it. ~ Erno Rubik
Parades represent what one might call a deep-seated "peacock syndrome" that lives within us all. Since human beings first gathered socially, probably as far back as 3000 BC, there are records of religious processions and parades. An integral part of the community experience, down through the ages parades are social narratives telling their own unique story, celebrating military might, holidays and public events.
Ancient military leaders considered parades necessary tools to intimidate opposition and muster support on a large scale. The first public parades were most likely military or political in nature, nurturing a sense of nationalistic pride, an essential component for making and sustaining war. Religious institutions also used parades to gain and solidify powerful connections with the populace.
The public welcomed parades, as they were a colorful diversion from the drudgery of working life as well as a magic window into the realm of the rich and powerful. For many others though, the parade was synonymous with public humiliation, as conquered people were forced to watch the victors flaunt their triumph down the main streets of vanquished towns.
Some early parades had pleasant overtones and were connected to fairs and festivals. These gatherings were highly social in nature and provided opportunities for exchanging information. In medieval Italy, parades were comprised of carts (carozze) with historical scenes painted on them rolling through towns, and circus parades were much anticipated public events in earlier times. Brightly colored wagons and exotic performers enthralled small town populaces and served both as flamboyant spectacle and advertisement for the circus.
Modern parades form along similar lines, but are accented with the flourishes of modern excesses. The military parade is a fact of life and is always focused on honoring veterans of past wars or celebrating the victory of a new one. Although war and its aftermath are unfortunately inevitable, it evokes complicated emotions. For example, at the end of World War II, parades expressed part of the irrepressible joy of liberation from the dark forces of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. Later wars, however, such as Korea and Vietnam, provoked different outcomes. Veterans of these undeclared conflicts felt unappreciated, as their homecomings were either riotous protests of the war or quiet affairs that went uncelebrated.
Perhaps it was all an attempt to sweep discomfort under the rug so to speak, but whatever the case, the government and the public felt the sting of chastisement and went overboard the other way, determined to honor (and honor and honor) the troops returning from the Persian Gulf War of 1991. Many of the parades after this conflict lasted longer than the 43-day-war itself.
Inspiring many parades, religion has often been the focal point of public demonstrations of both pride and prejudice (sorry, Miss Austin). Many American parades got their start as religious caravans; namely Mardi Gras and the feast of St. Patrick parades. Mardi Gras parades celebrate the last feast before the beginning of Lent.
An occasion for revelry and debauchery since the first Mardi Gras in 1837 in New Orleans, social groups known as krewes sponsored dozens of balls and parades of their own. Krewes were for those societal groups who were otherwise excluded from mainstream activities; namely blacks and Jews, and since 1958, gays as well. All celebrate and compete for the most artistic and ostentatious parade floats, but separately.
The feast of St. Patrick, especially in New York City, is celebrated with one of the nations largest parades. In 1998, it attracted one hundred and fifty thousand marchers and more than one-and-one-half million spectators. Fun and colorful and even raucous, the parade has a soft but present political agenda of Irish nationalism. Marchers in the St. Patricks Day parades are always exclusively Irish. Marginalized groups are not welcome. Irish gays, for example, can march in the parade but only under the banner of their homeland. No other representation is permitted.
Advertising continues to be a powerful motive for hosting parades. One of the most grandiose advertising gestures is the famous Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade in New York City, which has been in existence since 1924. Companies pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to display helium-filled toys and logos before millions of spectators. Many other companies are catching on to parading as a marketing tool, hiring specialized companies to plan and execute their parades to maximum effect.
Political causes can also generate parades as evidenced by Gay Pride Day, which began in the 1970s. Gay Pride marches were at first challenging demonstrations demanding well-deserved gay rights, but that soon changed. As the gay liberation movement gained a foothold and participants began to unite in their communities, their solidarity forced an evolution that manifested itself into a celebratory parade, complete with elaborate floats, commercial advertisements, and even politicians seeking votes.
The parade is a noble caravan with a long and interesting history.
Why not make history today and form your own parade tomorrow?
Make sure the forecast is clear skies
Did you know . . .