At the end of the 19th Century, not many people knew much about the state of California other than it was a great place to find your fortune in gold mining. Charles Holder set out to change all that when in 1889 he offered up a creative idea at a Pasadena Valley Hunt Club meeting. He wanted to tell the world about the wonderful, temperate, and beautiful place he lived. His suggestion spawned the first ever Tournament of Roses Parade on January 1, 1890. Two thousand people lined the sidewalks of Colorado Avenue to see a grand procession of carriages covered in beautiful flowers that bloom year round in Pasadena. Known colloquially as “America’s New Year Celebration” it is held January 1st of each year unless the first falls on a Sunday, in which case it is postponed until Monday the 2nd. This odd arrangement was set in 1893 due to a fear of startling the horses tethered outside the many churches that line the parade route. Though the days of horse drawn carriages are behind us, the tradition has stuck.
While the Rose Parade features equestrians and bands, the main draw is clearly the fantastic floats. Constructed entirely out of natural organic materials (predominately flowers, seeds, vegetables, and plants), each float can take up to a year to complete. Due to the expenses that were involved in making such labor intensive displays, it was decided early on that additional funding was needed to support the costs that the Pasadena Valley Hunt Club had been shouldering entirely on their own. So, in 1902 the first Rose Bowl college football game was held in support of Pasadena’s parade. It has been held annually ever since 1916 and has become as much of an institution as the pageant itself.
To get an up close and personal look at the floats and all the hard work that is put into creating them, visitors are encouraged to attend the Float Decorating Event and the Post-Parade Float Display. For a minimal cost, spectators can see the final days of float preparation or take a few hours to see the completed works exhibited for several days after the event. Many suggest that this is the best way to see the parade, as seating can be a bit of a fiasco to come by. Some people chose to purchase grandstand tickets which can run anywhere from $42.00 to $85.00 depending on location. And that is based on direct purchases; tickets from brokers can run many times higher. Most of the “in person” audience camps out the night before on the sidewalks along the route. Even these seats fill up fast, so they are open to the public at noon the day before the parade to allow for the least chaos.
Since 1918, the Rose Parade has been designed around themes. The theme each year is decided upon by the President of the Tournament of Roses and have been as diverse as fairy tales (1933), victory in war (1946), happiness (1974 & 1978), and communication (1988). The majority of the floats adhere to the year’s theme which has made for some very interesting displays over the parade’s history. Another big attraction are the Grand Marshalls who have included such distinguished names as Shirley Temple, Richard Nixon, Bob Hope, Jimmy Stewart, and Bill Cosby. An American institution, the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California is a pageant of not just the natural beauty that California has to offer but is also a display of the dedication and hard work of hundreds of volunteers whose goal is to spread joy across the nation and the world.