Easter Parade and Bonnet Festival in New York City: The Complete Guide

Annual Easter Parade Held on New York 5th Avenue

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Every Easter Sunday, the streets of Manhattan come alive with spring colors and flowery bonnets as part of the annual Easter Parade and Bonnet Festival. Visitors and residents alike have the opportunity to watch "paraders" wander along Fifth Avenue from 49th to 57th Streets. The area around St. Patrick's Cathedral is the ideal place to see all the festivities. The 2020 event is scheduled for April 12 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Unlike most New York City parades, the Easter procession isn't an organized event. There are no floats; only people who tend to weave in and out of shops and cafes along the route. Onlookers may stop by the festivities at any time during its six-hour duration to see the various Easter bonnets and costumed pets.

People from around the world come to New York City to participate, and their outfits for the day's festivities range from elegant to outrageous. Almost all of them, though, are homemade. It's quite the spectacle for tourists to witness: There will be dogs in full costume, humans in Civil War period costumes, even people in the latest couture.

Easter Bonnets on Display at New York's Annual Easter Parade
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History of the Easter Parade

This annual tradition has been taking place in New York City for more than 130 years, and while some things have changed, many traditions remain steadfast. The tradition of dressing up for the event started back in the 1880s, when women would wear their finest hats and dresses and decorate the churches with flowers to celebrate the holy day.

From the 1880s through the 1950s, the New York City Easter Parade was one of the largest cultural expressions in America to celebrate the holiday and a spectacle of fashion and religious observance of the time. However, as the years went on, the Easter festival became less about religion and more about extravagance and American prosperity.

Today, the Easter Parade combines these traditions by incorporating the annual Bonnet Festival into the parade and by hosting events at St. Patrick's Cathedral in observance of Easter.

People attend the Annual Easter parade in New York
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Easter Services at St. Patrick's Cathedral

If you're attending the Easter Bonnet Festival and Parade, you might want to enjoy an Easter service at St. Patrick's Cathedral, the centerpiece of the festivities.

St. Patrick's Cathedral puts on a number of Easter masses and Holy Week services, including eight on Easter Sunday (at 7 a.m., 8 a.m., 8:45 a.m., 10:15 a.m., noon, 1 p.m., 4 p.m., and 5:30 p.m.). Only the 10:15 a.m. mass requires tickets; the others are open to the public. If you want tickets to the reservation-only Easter mass, you have to send a letter to St. Patrick's Cathedral in January requesting your reservation. There is a two-ticket-per-person limit. The 4 p.m. service is conducted in Spanish. Find out more details about the events at St. Patrick's Cathedral on its website.

Other churches offering Easter services near the parade route include Saint Thomas Church on 53rd Street and 5th Avenue and the 5th Avenue Presbyterian Church at 55th Street and 5th Avenue.

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