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Halloween, the annual celebration of all things ghastly and ghostly, is rooted in Celtic tradition—namely the festival of Samhain and the Christian All Saints Day. Meant to celebrate the "dark half" of the year, it was aptly linked to the fall harvest and taking stock of food supplies. Today's Halloween celebrations still hold dear much of those same traditions, with children and adults dressing up as various costumed characters while going door-to-door to collect candy—enough to supply some households until the December holidays.
Few kids go trick-or-treating in Manhattan, however, where for the last few decades Halloween has been hijacked by adults in the form of an annual hours-long dance-march spectacle known as the Village Halloween Parade. Ralph Lee, a Greenwich Village resident, mask-maker, and puppeteer, who walked from house to house with several children and puppets in tow, started the tradition in 1973. Each year that followed saw the parade's ever-increasing popularity. Now in its 38th year, the annual Greenwich Village Halloween Parade is the largest in the world.
This year's theme, Memento Mori, or Remembrance of Death, will offer a chance for current enthusiasts to remember those who have paraded before us, as volunteer puppeteers get yet another chance to usher in the end of the year celebration of darkness with 12-foot tall skeleton puppets, dragons, birds, bees, snakes, and assorted other creepy, crawly things.
Perhaps those who have the most fun are the individual costumed participants. Among our greatest treasures as a community is the opportunity to dress up in costume and walk the Sixth Avenue parade route as our fantasy selves—bankers as thieves, librarians as rock stars, and psychiatrists as mental patients. This aspect of the parade, while unofficial, is much like a carnaval atmosphere, recalling New Orleans during Mardi Gras, or even Brazil. Anyone can join in the fun, provided they are in costume and arrive early enough to assemble between Broome and Spring Streets prior to them being cordoned off by the NYPD. (Note: Arriving between 5PM and 6PM is not too early. It gives you plenty of time to enjoy watching people assemble and have a quick bite before a long evening of activity. The parade itself kicks off sharply at 7PM.)
Jugglers, masked men, stilt-walkers, giant puppets, floats, marching bands, musicians of every stripe, and costumes that will delight and amaze the senses will all come alive in celebration of what has officially become New York City's craziest and most daring events.
The parade has always been a celebration of the imagination," said Lee, when he resigned his post in 1985 as its director, passing the baton to Jeanne Fleming who remains its leader today. Come join some 50,000 costumed participants and nearly two million audience members as New Yorkers take it to the streets for the night of all nights; it's truly epic.