The Village Halloween Parade, celebrating 50 years since it began as a small neighborhood “promenade” and has become one of the largest Halloween events in the world, was themed UPSIDE/DOWN, reflecting the tumult of the last few years, and inviting self-reflection.
“The Halloween Parade has always been a night of transformation, but this topsy turvy year feels even more-so in terms of realizing a dream, being who you are most authentically in your imagination,” said Jeanne Fleming, Artistic and Producing Director.
Hundreds of thousands of spectators packed the streets along the mile-long parade route from Canal Street to 16th Street along Sixth Avenue, to thrill at hundreds of puppets, 50 bands representing music from around the world, dancers, artists, and thousands of other New Yorkers in costumes of their own creation in the nation’s most wildly creative public participatory event in the greatest city in the world – the biggest crowds since 2019.
“I’m astonished by how many people are here,” said a justifiably proud and delighted Fleming. “We invite people to come out and they did!”
Spectators thrilled at seeing hundreds of puppets, 50 bands and dancers representing music from around the world and New York’s melting pot, and tens of thousands of New Yorkers in costumes of their own creation, in the nation’s most wildly creative public participatory event in the greatest city in the world.
Started by Greenwich Village mask maker and puppeteer Ralph Lee in 1973, the Parade began as a walk from house to house in his neighborhood for his children and their friends.
After the second year of this local promenade, Theater for the New City stepped in and produced the event on a larger scale as part of their City in the Streets program.
Today the Parade is the largest celebration of its kind in the world and has been picked by Festivals International as “The Best Event in the World” for October 31.
Now, 50 years later, the Parade draws more than 70,000 costumed participants and some 2 million spectators, including television-viewing audience, live on NY1 beginning at 8 pm.
In 1994, the Mayor of the City of New York issued a Proclamation honoring the Village Halloween Parade for 20 years of bringing everyone in the City together in a joyful and creative way and being a boon to the economic life of the City. “New York is the world’s capital of creativity and entertainment. The Village Halloween Parade presents the single greatest opportunity for all New Yorkers to exhibit their creativity in an event that is one-of-a-kind, unique and memorable every year. New Yorkers of all ages love Halloween, and this delightful event enables them to enjoy it every year and join in with their own special contributions. The Halloween Parade in Greenwich Village is a true cultural treasure.”
The irony is that while Halloween is about taking on a completely different persona, at the Village Halloween Parade, we see New Yorkers’ true selves.
And that’s true to the Upside/Down-Inside/Out theme.
New York City’s famed Village Halloween Parade is always thrilling and fun, but this year’s was especially joyful.
There was a special energy, sense of joy after the COVID hiatus in 2020 – with crowds returning to six and 10 deep at the barriers lining the parade route, from Spring Street to 16th Street on Sixth Avenue, many of the onlookers in costume.
Understandably, some of the marchers paid homage to COVID in their costumes, but most were throwbacks, nostalgic, playful and even innocent on this night of Devil May Care – the Wizard of Oz, Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf, and impersonating games –with uncharacteristically few political statements (except for the interruption of an actual religious protest denouncing sinners, sparking “boos” from the crowd). On the other hand, many of the displays paid homage to protecting the climate and environment.
To be sure, there were lots of Satan, the Devil and Malificent but despite the requisite scary monsters, vampires (flash mob dancing to “Thriller”), and ghouls and such, there was a sense of childhood innocence.
That’s because the 2021 theme (“in two parts”) was “Let’s Play” and “All Together Now” – and was manifested in many of the major displays, especially the giant puppets for which the Village Halloween Parade is known.
One huge group of puppets took the form of cartoon characters. And even the skeleton puppets which traditionally lead the parade seemed to have a smile on their skull.
There was even an entire circus, complete with tight rope walker.
Jeanne Fleming, Artistic and Producing Director, challenged participants to “come up with a costume idea that engages the audience and your fellow marchers–so we can PLAY together once again! Think Wheel of Fortune, a Kissing Booth, Play Ball! A Deck of Cards!”
“Don’t be the ONLY GAME in Town–Join with your friends and play on!” she said. “Make up your own interactive or visually enticing game! And then, join us on our Special THEME section of the Parade!”
Indeed, there was a marching Deck of Cards, Hula Hoops, a board game float, and a Slinky Lady.
Among the highlights: Grand Marshal Randy Rainbow performing a song for the Spectrum 1 NY1 television broadcast.
It is one of the best nights for New Yorkers to show their creativity, imagination, artistry and humor. It’s the night when you can be anything you want to be, when the lines between what’s real and what’s not are obliterated – even more so than on other nights of the year.
Here are photo highlights of the Village Halloween Parade 2021:
Celebrating its 48th Anniversary, New York’s Village Halloween Parade is:
The nation’s largest public Halloween celebration
Named as The Greatest Event on Earth by Festivals International for October 31
Attended by over 2 million people, seen by over 1 million on TV
The nation’s only major night Parade
Seen LIVE on NY 1 Television
Listed as one of the 100 Things to do Before You Die
Recipient of the Municipal Arts Society of New York’s Award for making a major contribution to the cultural life of New York City
Recipient of a major grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in recognition of Longtime Artistic Achievement
Recipient of the Mayor’s Tourism Grant in recognition of the Parade’s major impact on the economic life of New York City and grants from the Manhattan Borough President’s Tourism Initiative
Picked by Events International as The Greatest Event on Earth on October 31, and ranked 3rd by Citysearch as the best event in New York City
Ranked by Biz Bash as one of the top 10 events in NYC
An event which has a positive impact on New York economic life, bringing hundreds of thousands of tourists and an estimated $90 million in tourism dollars into the city, providing Greenwich Village businesses and restaurants their best night of the year.
An event which has a tremendously positive impact on how people who live in or come to visit New York see and feel about this community. The excitement and goodwill that it generates is lasting.
In effect, by turning a large and complex city into a small town for just one night, the Parade has been a pioneer in the critical movement toward the resurrection and rejuvenation of the City.
The 45th annual, iconic New York City Village Halloween Parade brought out thousands of costumed participants around the theme, “I AM a Robot!”
“With artificial intelligences learning, adapting, interpreting and reacting as humans do, the times we live in can be overwhelming,” said Jeanne Fleming, Artistic/Producing Director of New York’s Village Halloween Parade. “This traditional and beloved event aspires to bring folks into their creative imagination—celebrating that quality that differentiates us from robots—and by extension make the world a better place. We as New Yorkers and those visiting the Big Apple can come together, affirm our identity, block out the distractions, focus on joy and inhabit the streets of New York LIVE.”
“The 2018 Village Halloween Parade celebrates what makes us human by exploring how we remake ourselves. For our part, we will deploy a floating phalanx of cybernetic figures, each tethered by glowing wires to its human controller to evoke the increasingly complex strands of identity that entangle man with machine. We invite all of our Halloween makers and marchers to join our positronic collective, expressing your inner cyborgs for an evening of robotic revelry as we employ our most uniquely human qualities–dreaming, fantasizing, creating–to do our best robot impersonations.”
The theme is timely, considering 2018 is also the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s publication of “Frankenstein”.
Grand Marshal Machine Dazzle led the VIP Robot Section.
The Village Halloween Parade is:
The nation’s largest public Halloween celebration
Named as The Greatest Event on Earth by Festivals International for October 31
Attended by over 2 million people, seen by over 1 million on TV.
The nation’s only major night Parade.
Listed as one of the 100 Things to do Before You Die.
Picked by Events International as The Greatest Event on Earth on October 31, and ranked 3rd by Citysearch as the best event in New York City.
Ranked by Biz Bash as one of the top 10 events in NYC.
Recipient of the Municipal Arts Society of New York’s Award for making a major contribution to the cultural life of New York City.
Recipient of a major grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in recognition of Longtime Artistic Achievement.
Recipient of the Mayor’s Tourism Grant in recognition of the Parade’s major impact on the economic life of New York City and grants from the Manhattan Borough President’s Tourism Initiative.
Started by Greenwich Village mask maker and puppeteer in 1974, the Parade began as a walk from house to house in his neighborhood for his children and their friends.
After the second year of this local promenade, Theater for the New City stepped in and produced the event on a larger scale as part of their City in the Streets program. That year the Parade went through many more streets in Greenwich Village and attracted larger participation because of the involvement of the Theater.
After the third year, the Parade formed itself into a not-for-profit organization, discontinued its association with Theater for the New City and produced the Parade on its own.
The Village Halloween Parade has been a significant factor in the revitalization of the city and its spirit.
It also affords an opportunity for political expression.
The Village Halloween Parade, normally an expression of exuberant creativity, this year had an added dimension of courage and defiance. The 44th annual parade went on, on schedule despite a terror attack that took place mere hours before and less than a mile from where tens of thousands of marchers and parade goers were gathering.
In what is New York City’s version of Carnival, the mile-long route along Sixth Avenue was transformed into a bestiary of fantastic hybrids, culled from the hallowed halls of Cryptozoology, fitting in with this year’s theme, “Cabinet of Curiosities: An Imaginary Menagerie”.
The theme was inspired by the likes of PT Barnum’s carnival-esque museum which featured “The Fiji Mermaid,” created with the head of a monkey on a taxidermied fish, and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein – the real and imagined curiosities, made all the more plausible by leading edge technology like CRISPR gene-splicing technology promises to unleash “a host of unholy hybrids into our midst,” said Jeanne Fleming, long-time
Artistic and Producing Director of the Village Halloween Parade.
“Halloween, of course, revels in hybrids, mash-ups and the frisson of crossed identities. So, as we approach Frankenstein’s bicentennial, we are building our own Cabinet of Wonders, the Parade itself!”
Many of the marchers, though, abandoned the theme in favor of subtle (and not subtle) protest, another element of the traditionally irreverent display, with lots of pot-shots at Donald Trump, his administration, and his policies.
Despite the tragic event earlier in the day when eight people were killed and 11 injured when a lone-wolf, self-proclaimed terrorist careened at high speed in a pickup truck one mile down the Hudson River Conservancy bikeway on the Westside Highway, the irreverent, devil-may-care attitude that is hallmark of the Village Parade was still paramount, even with the legions of police with assault weapons – they blended right in.
This year’s parade was also distinguished by two of the marchers: Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill DiBlasio, who joined the parade to show solidarity and hammer home the message: Go on with your lives.
One of the parade regulars put it more directly, as he embraced the parade’s artistic director Jeanne Fleming, “This is a giant F-U to the terrorists.”
Nothing could stifle was has been appropriately hailed as the “Greatest Event on Earth” by Festival International for October 31st and a top event in NYC by Events International, Citysearch and Biz Bash, the Village Halloween Parade is still the nation’s largest public Halloween celebration, with thousands of costumed marchers, hundreds of Halloween characters, giant masks and puppets, dozens of marching bands playing music from around the world stilt walkers, and street performers that turn the avenue into a mile-long stage.
The NYC Village Halloween Parade, which has always encouraged young and upcoming artists, this year selected as grand marshal an up-and-comer, Angelica Vox, who rode up the avenue on a float designed by Alexei Kazantsev, its first ever done in a New Orleans style.
The 43rd Annual Village Halloween Parade, the largest Halloween event in the world, got underway with extraordinary precision, as all the skeletons, ghouls and monsters – some 50,000 in all – got into order for the march up New York’s 6th Avenue to the rhythm of a host of bands.
The theme this year invited participants to “Sink into Reverie —that liminal space in which one creates.”
“One thinks of Halloween as a chance to fantasize, but more than anything Halloween lets us realize, allowing us to play ourselves, leaving the remainder of the year for sleepwalking…. In these moments of reverie, our eyes are fresh, a child’s eyes. Our thoughts unfettered by habit, ideas and inspirations swirl in. So this year we celebrate Reverie, inviting one and all to recreate their waking dreams.”
Indeed, this is one day a year when New Yorkers, en masse, release their inner exhibitionist, their inner Action Hero. It’s Body English, when your entire being is a placard to transmit your message. For some, it is a way of releasing inner rage, anxiety, and confront demons. For others, it is a way to convey spiritual blessings, cheer.
This year had its Willy Wonkas, the Egyptian Pharoahs (one carried a “10 Commandments for the 21st Century that included “gender equality” and “no more wars”), Action Heroes and Cartoon characters, spirits from myth and folklore, and a good smattering of political characters and commentary, with candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton (more mocking him than her), Anonymous, and against the NRA.
Tens of thousands of people lined the route, which extended a mile from Spring Street up to 16th Street, delighting all as the bigger-than-life skeleton puppets poked into the crowd and stilt walkers and costumed characters engaged.
Creativity is on full view, a mischievous spirit in the air – this is New York City’s Carnival and Mummers wrapped into one.
It is amazingly artful, marvelous to behold – indeed, producer Jeanne Fleming, who took over the planning for the parade after its 8th year when the crowd reached 100,000, saw the Village Halloween Parade as an art installation.
And the scenics! with the lights of the Freedom Tower downtown, the church at Greenwich with its giant spider crawling down the side and the tower lighted, and the Empire State, lit in crackling light show for the occasion uptown, and the buildings lining 6th Avenue like canyon walls – creating a fantastical atmosphere in which the walking creatures and monsters feel most at home.
“New York’s Village Halloween Parade is committed to the cultural and imaginative life of New York City and to the advancement of large-scale participatory events in the belief that such events, when artistically inspired, can play a major role in the resurrection and rejuvenation of the City’s spirit, economy and the life of its people,” is the mission statement. “Fleeting as it may seem, the Annual Village Halloween Parade provides a subconsciously experienced time structure that lends a sense of durability, continuity and community to New York City life.”
Indeed, it is a collective giggle, a communal hug against the forces beyond control, and while you are in the spirit of it, you forget everything beyond.
Walking around Manhattan, with the oddest sights (half the time, you don’t know if people are wearing costumes), just adds to the special thrill of Halloween in New York City.
From humble beginnings in 1974 when Greenwich Village mask maker and puppeteer Ralph Lee started a walk from house to house for his children and friends, the Village Halloween Parade, now headed by Artist and Producer Jeanne Fleming, has become an iconic event of New York City, with some 60,000 participants and tens of thousands of onlookers.
The Village Halloween Parade, the only major night parade in the country, is the largest public Halloween celebration in the world. It has been named as “The Greatest Event on Earth” for October 31 by Festivals International, and has been listed as one of the “100 Things to Do Before You Die.”
The ghouls and ghosts in the parade certainly would agree.