According to census data, there are more than 1 million Italian-Americans living in greater New York City and hardly any of them miss the opportunity to celebrate their heritage at the annual Columbus Day Parade. Christopher Columbus is the famous Italian who stumbled upon North America while sailing the ocean blue in 1492—remember the rhyme from school? Centuries later, he's still being celebrated every year on the second Monday of October.
The holiday is a controversial one that has been eschewed by several states because of the indigenous groups who fell victim to European colonization, but to New York City and its Italian-American community, the day remains a highlight of Italian-American Heritage and Culture Month.
About NYC's Columbus Day Parade
While the St. Patrick's Day Parade and the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade draw tremendous crowds, this lesser-known procession attracts fewer people (and therefore less chaos) while still boasting all the great features of a classic NYC parade.
It's been organized by the Columbus Citizens Foundation since 1929 and has been grand marshaled by Yogi Berra, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Rudy Giuliani, and Regis Philbin. The procession includes more than 30,000 marchers from 130-plus groups, bands, floats, and other contingents. It attracts around 1 million spectators per year, making it the largest celebration of Italian-American culture in the world.
How to Attend the Columbus Day Parade
The route begins on Fifth Avenue at 44th Street and continues north along Fifth Avenue to 72nd Street. The grandstands—i.e. the "red carpet area"—are located on Fifth Avenue between 67th and 69th Streets. Where you choose to the view parade should be determined by personal taste: The most scenic spots for viewing are along Central Park, of course, but there are also live performances near 67th Street.
Before the parade, a Mass is held at St. Patrick's Cathedral (50th Street and Fifth Avenue) at 9:30 a.m. Tickets are required for entry before 9:15, but after that, the cathedral opens to additional attendees as space allows. Attending the early service should allow for enough time to secure your favorite spot along the parade route when the Mass is complete.
After the parade, the tradition is to eat a lot of Italian food—as you can imagine, there are many great options around the city. Your best bet may be Little Italy if it's ambiance, authenticity, and abundance you seek.
2020 Parade Information
The 2020 Columbus Day Parade would have marked its 76th anniversary, but the event has been canceled. However, Marian Pardo, president of the Columbus Citizens Foundation, said in August that there would be some virtual programming taking place on New York TV network WABC. It should include an audience-less parade featuring the usual marching groups, performers, high schools, and charitable organizations, Pardo said, plus revisiting of bygone Columbus Day Parades, chats with past grand marshals, and virtual performances by Italian-American artists. Visit ColumbusCitizensFD.org for updated information.