Joining In the Nation’s Biggest Public Halloween Celebration


Last week I wondered if, because of its pagan roots and general emphasis on gluttony, we as Catholics are called to refrain from celebrating Halloween.

The majority of responses  said it’s a perfectly fine holiday for a Catholic to observe. In other words, the message to me was: “Stop your needless worrying and have some candy already!”

My favorite response was from CatholicMatch member Anne, who said, “I figure, as in property law, possession is 9/10ths of ownership. We own Halloween now. It’s ours to do with what we will. Suck on that lollipop, satan!”

Well, my solution for this little dilemma was solved many years ago; I celebrate Halloween in a way that not many people get to do. Monday night I did what I do almost every year: attended the Village Halloween Parade in New York City. It’s a wildly popular event – upwards of 50,000 participants show up, not to mention the million-plus audience. 

I consider it our city’s Mardi Gras,  or  Carnevale, and we New Yorkers take it very seriously! Many arts groups spend months, if not the whole year, on their floats. It is truly a sight to behold – the giant puppets, the costumes, the music, the floats, and the audience alone is entertaining enough! The revelry is certainly not for everybody, but I, for one, just love it.


A longtime love

My very first parade-going experience was in 1989, and it was mostly accidental.

I, in my naive youthfulness, thought driving into the Village on Halloween night to attend the parade would be no big deal. Long story short, my compact car became an impromptu float! A giant spider landed on the roof and a herd of Holstein cows sidled up alongside me, mooing and laughing!

I’ve been smitten ever since.

At that time, I didn’t know the history of the parade. The tradition is nearly as old as I am! It all started in the early 1970s with a  collaboration between a public theater troupe and a  costume designer  who thought his handiwork should be seen in public. A “moving exhibition” of sorts was the result, with about 100 costumed and masked participants displaying this designer’s work, which included the signature giant puppets.

True to the nature of this city, onlookers were delightfully surprised and joined the procession. By the following year, the number of participants jumped to 1,500.

The artistry of the parade also won an Obie award that year. For this previously-obscure costume designer, the award signaled the start of Something Big.  And it’s become Something Big, indeed!

To this day, it remains the nation’s biggest public Halloween event and is one of the only large-scale night parades in the country. It is open to the public. Anyone with a costume can register to join the procession. It is also run in large part by volunteers, having gone non-profit by the mid-70s.


Stepping out

As I said, it’s not for everyone, but for artsy types – and let’s face it, NYC is overrun with them – it’s a must-do.

For me, true to my temperament, I’d mostly been a spectator on the sidelines; on a few occasions, I marched in costume.

But what made this year different was that I participated with my dance troupe. I joined this troupe recently because while I’d trained as a dancer for many years, I never wanted to perform. But at some point, I think because I faced my deepest fears, I felt ready to go public.

So far, public performing has been a blast!

We were the designated group to lead the parade, which was quite an honor! Mama Donna, a popular NYC figure, invited us to “bless” the parade, the streets and the crowds with her. We had a few rehearsals and hashed out our costume options.


Getting started

On Halloween afternoon, we met at a troupe member’s home near the performer’s entrance, and we were on our way!

The excitement was palpable. I recognized it as the surge of creative energy that precedes any performance.

Amid the organized bedlam, as I named it, we managed to run through the choreography a few times while waiting for the procession to start.

Our drummers – three in all – somehow managed to drown out the house music and the other live musicians who were warming up further down the block.

Dance practice, I discovered, is also very effective in trying to ignore the many, many cameras at close range!

The procession was shorter than most years, but still a considerable distance, nearly one mile. We shimmied and twirled the whole way!

Behind us, huge skeleton puppets bounced to music I could only hear when our drummers stopped.

At one point, I looked behind me and then exclaimed to a fellow dancer, “Quick, run! We’re being chased by giant skeletons!” 

She shot back with, “Nah, let ’em chase us – we oughta teach ’em how to really dance!”

Usually one of the dancers recruits a friend to carry our props and bags, a role we affectionately refer to as “The Sherpa.”

This year, our lovely Sherpa was a dance student who wanted to join the troupe. Irony of ironies, she was dressed as…wait for it…the devil. I informed her that, according to my students, today was her birthday. She promptly expressed her entitlement to double the candy.

It made sense to me!

Coincidentally, Anne-238166 flew to NYC for the weekend and watched the parade this year. Tune in next Tuesday for more on that!



  1. Anne-238166 November 4, 2011 Reply

    This was possibly the coolest thing I’ve ever been a part of! Music in the streets, dancing, meeting wonderful people! I’m in!

    • David-364112 November 4, 2011 Reply

      I’ve never seen such AMAZING costumes in my life. That parade was great. Went a few times in the 1980’s when I lived in NYC.

      • Cate-291547 November 4, 2011 Reply

        I fully expect to see you BOTH next year … Anne as a PURE member, and David can be our Sherpa! ; )

  2. David-364112 November 3, 2011 Reply

    Too many party-poopers and blockheads worry needlessly about Halloween. We have a problem only if we partake with the wrong spirit and/or intent. Done right, it can be a lot of fun.


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