While conducting research for this post, I was half-expecting to find all manner of blasphemous links between the New York City Easter Parade and Lewis Carroll’s Mad Hatter. My assumption was based on how crazy the hats have become over the decades as they bob down Fifth Avenue perched on the heads of thousands taking part in the Bonnet Festival, an essential component of the Easter Parade. However, aside from a few photographs of those intentionally (or maybe not?) dressed as The Hatter, I discovered that the event is still seen by many as a very religious and spiritual event, falling on Easter Sunday. The Easter Parade also holds a special place in the hearts of not-theologically-inclined New Yorkers as a unifying event where people from all over the city and the world descend on downtown Manhattan to celebrate new and fresh beginnings; a new season, a change in the weather, the birth of new things and yes, maybe the felting of a new crazy hat.
The History of the Easter Parade
Standing corrected and fully informed, I’ll now explain the history and significance of Easter Parade in New York City and why it’s worth witnessing if you’re thinking about an Easter break in Manhattan. On Easter Sunday (20th April 2014) the parade begins outside St Patrick’s Cathedral on 49th Street before turning to march down Fifth Avenue and ending at 55th Street. The only prerequisite for being part of the parade is that you “wear your Sunday best”, and do expect funny looks if this doesn’t include a hat.
You may be asking yourself why you need to go to all the trouble of wearing clean clothes and something on your head. Allow me to explain briefly. Due to the nature of the Easter story in the Bible, it became tradition that church services incorporated a procession. In the centuries to follow, customarily your very best clothes were adorned for Easter celebrations:
“At Easter let your clothes be new,
Or this be sure, you will it rue.”
And so, in the 1870s, a small group of Christians spontaneously decided to start an Easter Sunday procession through downtown Manhattan, no doubt with bonnets and hats atop every single head. They did it again the following year, and the next and each time it grew a little with more people joining them for a stroll down Fifth Avenue.
The Easter Bonnet Festival
The Easter Bonnet Festival element of the parade is a much more recent phenomenon, and is most likely due to the fact that hats became less fashionable in the last three or four decades, making wearing an Easter bonnet something of a novelty, thus giving free reign to those feeling crafty and creative. Similar to Ladies Day at horse racing events across the globe, the Easter Parade in New York is now an unofficial catwalk show for the most eyebrow-raising, gravity-defying, laughter-inducing hats imaginable.
Visit New York at Easter
The Easter Parade is actually a very relaxed and open event with people descending along Fifth Avenue – closed to traffic from 10 o’clock in the morning – all day to soak up the atmosphere. Street food stalls keep appetites at bay and live music will be played everywhere so make sure you can dance in your Easter fedora. As well as the parade granting visitors a unique ‘only in NYC’ experience, the approach of spring makes Central Park lush, colourful and a beautiful place for a stroll.
2014 is a great year to go to New York in particular around Easter time, not just for the Easter Parade and the springiness but also because there’s a very special easter egg hunt going on across the city throughout April, organised by the same charity behind the Guinness world record winningly large Faberge Big Egg Hunt in London in 2012. Featuring eggs designed by celebrities, artists and fashion designers you can find out more here.
Have you ever been to the Easter Parade in New York? What was the craziest hat thing that you saw?
Featured image by unknowndomain