The history of the Village Halloween Parade began in 1974. The event was initiated by mask maker and puppeteer Ralph Lee. Over of years of working at a theater, Lee collected dozens of life size puppets and masks. He decided to put them to good use and to organize a Halloween parade in the neighborhood. Lee’s friends and family helped him with preparations.
The inaugural Village Halloween Parade was held on October 31, 1974 as a walk from house to house in Lee’s neighborhood for his children and their friends. Many people in costume who went trick-or-treating that night joined the improvised parade, making it a success. Inspired by the warm reception, Lee decided to make this local promenade an annual event.
After the second year, Theater for the New City decided to support the event and included it in their City in the Streets program, which helped attract larger participation. The next year, the parade discontinued its association with the theater and was registered as a not-for-profit organization. Today, the Village Halloween Parade is the largest Halloween celebration in the world. According to The New York Times, it is “the best entertainment the people of this City ever give the people of this City.”
Every year, the parade marches straight up Six Avenue, beginning at Canal Street and ending at 16th Street. The procession features hundreds of giant puppets, over fifty bands that represent music from across the globe, dancers of all styles, street performers, and thousands of New Yorkers in costumes which they’ve created with their own hands. Anyone and everyone in costume can participate in the parade. 50,000 to 60,000 people join the parade every year, making it a truly spectacular event.
The parade features plenty of traditional Halloween costumes such as witches, monsters, pirates, aliens, animals, pop culture characters, and celebrities. However, more and more participants each year come up with unconventional and bizarre ideas, for example, a Statue of Liberty stabbed in the chest or skeletons dressed as Krispy Kreme employees. Although the parade is billed as a family friendly event, there are quite a lot of costumes depicting genitalia, condoms and related themes. However, the New York audience is not fazed by them.
Each year, the organizers come up with a new parade theme. For example, the theme of the 2001 parade was Phoenix Rising. It was intended to galvanize the city’s spirit after the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Photo by André Ribeiro