Flower-covered Floats Blossom at the Annual Rose Parade

By: Wendy Bowman  | 

Rose Parade
The 129th Rose Parade in 2018 was kicked off with this amazing float sponsored by Honda. Pasadena Tournament of Roses

Back in the winter of 1890, members of Pasadena, California's distinguished Valley Hunt Club began brainstorming ways to promote California as the "Mediterranean of the West." The hunting and fishing social club wound up inviting its former East Coast neighbors, who were buried in snow, to a midwinter holiday, to watch games such as chariot and foot races, jousting, polo and tug-of-war beneath the warm California sun.

An abundance of fresh flowers — even in the throes of winter — prompted the club to add another showcase for Pasadena's charm: a parade that would precede the competition, with entrants adorning their carriages with hundreds of blooms. The result? The first-ever Tournament of Roses Parade.

Today the Rose Parade is part of America's New Year's Day celebration, which also includes the prestigious Rose Bowl Game. It's the oldest bowl game in college football and it features the top teams from Pac-12 and Big Ten. (The 2022 Rose Bowl will host The Ohio State Buckeyes and the PAC-12 Champion Utah Utes at 5 p.m. EST (2 p.m. local PST). The Rose Parade starts at 11 a.m. EST., (8 a.m. local PST).

Rose Parade float
The Lions Clubs International float "Rockin The Vest" is seen in all its glory at the 2019 Rose Parade, Jan. 1, 2019.
MediaNews Group/Torrance Daily B/via Getty Images

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History of the Tournament of Roses Parade

That first Rose Parade welcomed 3,000 people to an event filled with beautiful horse-drawn carriages covered in flowers. During the next few years, the parade was expanded to include marching bands and motorized floats, and the games included ostrich races, bronco-busting demonstrations, and a race between a camel and an elephant (the elephant won).

Viewing stands were eventually built along the parade route, which today runs 5.5 miles (8.8 kilometers) from the corner of Green Street and Orange Grove Boulevard to Colorado Boulevard (where the majority of the viewing occurs) before heading to Sierra Madre Boulevard and then ending at Villa Street.

In 1895, the Tournament of Roses Association was formed to take charge of the event, which had grown too large for the Valley Hunt Club to handle. Now more than a century after its formation, the two-hour New Year's Day parade is attended annually by about 700,000 spectators who revel in a beauty of its magnificent floats, talented marching bands and high-stepping equestrians.

Spirit of the West Riders
The Spirit of the West Riders will take part in the 2022 Rose Parade as they did here in 2019. The equestrian teams became part of the Rose Parade in January 1890, when then-Grand Marshal Francis Rowland and President Charles Holder rode their horses to lead the first parade through Pasadena.
Scott Varley/Digital First Media/Torrance Daily Breeze via Getty Images

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All About Those Fabulous Floats

If there's one thing the Rose Parade is known for, it's the elaborate floats. Some feature high-tech computerized animation and exotic natural materials from around the world. Although a few floats still are built exclusively by volunteers from their sponsoring communities, most are constructed by a cadre of professional float-building companies and take nearly a year to complete.

Remaining true to its floral beginnings, every inch of every float must be covered with flowers or other natural materials, such as leaves, seeds or bark. The most delicate flowers (including roses) are placed in individual vials of water and then set into floats one by one.

The designs of the floats must be submitted to the committee well in advance (anybody can submit a proposal for a float). Final floats are approved in February, and construction begins right away, though decorating starts about a month before the parade. Dry materials go on first, but all fresh flowers and greenery is added the last week or the final day or two, depending on the flower. An estimated 18 million flowers are used on the floats in the parade, plus 5,000 gallons (18,927 liters) of glue and 600 tons (544 metric tons) of steel.

Rose Parade float
The 2019 float "Play-Rest-Repeat" from the Big Bear Rose Parade Association won the Golden State Award for the most outstanding depiction of life in California.
Scott Varley/Digital First Media/Torrance Daily Breeze via Getty Images

Volunteers make up a huge chunk of the manpower that put the final touches on the floats. They supply more than 80,000 hours of combined manpower building and volunteering to make the parade happen.

Three judges award trophies for the best floats based on various criteria ranging from creative design and thematic interpretation to floral craftsmanship and thematic interpretation. The top award, the Sweepstakes Trophy, is presented to the most beautiful float entry encompassing float design, floral presentation and entertainment.

The 2022 Rose Parade will feature dozens of floats, including ones from The Ohio State University and the University of Utah. Each float will be decorated according to the 133rd Rose Parade theme, Dream. Believe. Achieve.

Rose Parade float
The Burbank Tournament of Roses Association float "Stompin' Good Time" won the Animation Award in 2019. An estimated 18 million flowers are used on the floats in the Rose Parade, plus 5,000 gallons (18,927 liters) of glue and 600 tons (544 metric tons) of steel.
Scott Varley/Digital First Media/Torrance Daily Breeze via Getty Images

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Marching Bands and Equestrian Groups

While the floats may be the blooming stars of the Rose Parade, the marching bands and horses are also perennial favorites. The marching bands have been part of the tradition since 1891 when the Monrovia, California City Band provided music in the second Rose Parade. Ever since, thousands of high school, college, university and military bands have made the march.

And speaking of marching, the equestrian teams will be doing a lot of that, as well. These horse and rider units first became part of the parade in January 1890, when then-Grand Marshal Francis Rowland and President Charles Holder rode their horses to lead the first parade through Pasadena. Each year since, the parade has included a variety of horse breeds, including Curlies, American Saddlebreds, Gypsy Cobs, Andalusians, miniature horses, draft horses and more.

Lassiter High School Marching Trojan Band
The Lassiter High School Marching Trojan Band from Atlanta, Georgia, performed during the 2019 Rose Parade. Military, high school and college marching bands from all over the world have been part of the Rose Parade tradition since 1891.
Scott Varley/Digital First Media/Torrance Daily Breeze via Getty Images

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Crowd Favorites for 2022

The California Polytechnic State University's float — a joint entry by Cal Poly Pomona and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo universities — has been a crowd favorite for 70-plus years. Designed and built entirely by students, the Cal Poly floats have led in introducing technology to the parade throughout the decades, from the first use of hydraulics for animation in 1968 to the first color-changing floral effect in 2017.

The university's 2022 float — "Stargazers" — is inspired by the nursery rhyme "Hey Diddle Diddle" and illustrates the story of the cows' journey of achieving their dream of jumping over the moon. But there's a fun twist: These cows use jetpacks! Other characters on the float include a cat with a computer and dog with a telescope and the entire float represents the Cal Poly Universities' "learn by doing" approach.

In addition to the floats, 18 equestrian groups, including the 1st Cavalry Division Horse Cavalry Detachment from Ft. Hood in Texas and the Spirit of the West Riders from Chino Valley, Arizona. Fifteen marching bands from around the world will strut their stuff at the 2022 parade, including the Georgia State University Panther Band and the Waukee Warrior Regiment high school band.

If you can't make your way to Pasadena to see the parade in person, you can watch it live in the U.S. beginning at 11 a.m. EST. (Check your local broadcast listings for more information.) The parade also airs live around the world, including in many Caribbean and Latin American countries, as well as on American Forces Network.

Rose Bowl Parade performers
The Banda Municipal de Zarcero from Costa Rica performed during the 131st Rose Parade in 2020. The 2021 Rose Parade was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images

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Originally Published: Dec 18, 2019

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