Every year on New Year's Day, dozens of floats, marching bands, and teams of horses parade down Orange Grove, Colorado, and Sierra Madre Boulevards to wish the camped-out locals "Happy New Year."
That is, unless New Year's Day is on a Sunday, like it was this year.
Both the Rose Bowl game and Rose Parade operate under a pact to never operate on a Sunday...
...so, in the rare cases that New Year's Day falls on a Sunday, the big events in Pasadena get moved to Monday, January 2.
My first time actually watching the parade was last year, when I forewent all monetary concerns and splurged on a ticket to a viewing party, high above the Paseo on Colorado Boulevard—which is more or less "ground zero" for the Rose Parade.
This year, I wanted to try something a little closer to street level, so I joined a viewing party closer to the northern terminus of the parade route, a less popular but still crowded area.
And this time, I brought a friend who was a first-timer.
Are the floats different every year? she asked.
Oh, yes they are. And this was the first working rollercoaster I'd seen. (Kudos to the Downey Rose Float Association.)
Are the bands just from local schools? she asked.
Oh no, they are not. They come from as far as Georgia and Texas to perform in the parade (and at Bandfest).
Are they all made of flowers? she asked.
Well, not entirely, but pretty much every inch of every bird, bear, dragon, and whatnot is covered by some natural material. And the really good ones—like the fire-breather from the Rotary Foundation—have some action going on besides just the roses and other flowers.
And it's not just marching, either—but also dancing, baton twirling, flag carrying, and so on.
For everyone performing in the parade, this is serious business.
The passion is infectious.
But beyond those who make their "Journey to the West" to actually walk the parade route, there are also the hundreds of volunteers (come of whom travel as well) who donate their time to build and decorate the floats...
...those who ensure their safe passage from wherever in LA County they were built and decorated to Pasadena...
...and those who make sure everything runs smoothly along the route (including the unseen drivers who likely can't see where they're going).
This year's Grand Marshal was Olympian Greg Louganis, not only because 2016 marked the 40th anniversary of his first Olympic medal, but also because of LA's bid for the 2024 Summer Games.
We even got our annual visit from the Budweiser Clydesdales and their pal dalmatian.
This event is all about LA pride—and that includes encouraging our Trojans to "Fight On."
Every year, though, the Rose Parade does have a different theme—and while this year's was "Echoes of Success," that got expressed very differently depending on the float.
Whether it was "Waves of Hope" or "To Honor and Remember Orlando"...
...or "Books Bring Us Together," our different ideas about success—even if it was just about rising above adversity—echoed throughout the two-hour parade.
Over on that stretch of Sierra Madre, the street is wider and the buildings are shorter...
...giving the parade a real "hometown" feel that I don;t think could ever be accomplished by, say, the Thanksgiving Day Parade in Manhattan.
But the more I witness the Rose Parade, the more I regret not at least trying to watch the Thanksgiving parade in New York.
But while our tradition has been somewhat corporatized (it is sponsored by Honda, after all), we still get to see the Twenty Mule Team recreating their appearance 100 years ago at the Rose Parade...
...and celebrating the legacy of one of the most recognizable icons of the Old West (and of Borax).
We celebrate La Cañada Flintridge, where a "backyard rocketeer" can set in motion a series of events that lead to deep space missions.
We turn over "A New Leaf," especially when things don't go exactly as planned. (The Cal-Poly chameleon, for instance, lot an animatronic eyeball and didn't change colors like it was supposed to.)
We've got our California milk...
...and we drink it, too.
We embrace our lions...
...and the rest of our wildlife, too.
And we're proud of our skyscrapers being a little different than anywhere else.
We applaud our military.
Our firefighters save kittens from our trees.
And we never give up—even if we finish last. (As long as we finish.)
It's a shame that South Pasadena Tournament of Roses—the oldest self-built float in the Rose Parade—didn't win an award for their The Tortoise and the Hare-themed float, after completing it against all odds. Their decorating shed was burgled several times over the past year, which meant they lost building materials and other supplies more than once.
But they did win the National Trophy last year, and there's always next year...
Photo Essay: New Year's Day at the Rose Parade
Photo Essay: The Floats of the Rose Parade, 2015
Photo Essay: Rose Parade 2014 Floats, In Progress
Photo Essay: The House of Chewing Gum and Roses
Photo Essay: The Marching Bands of the Rose Parade, 2016
Photo Essay: The Horses of the Rose Parade
Photo Essay: Welcoming 100 Mules to LA After Walking the Aqueduct