Behind the Bud of the Rose Parade

By Bridget Gehan, Staff Writer

Behind the brightest bud of the Pasadena Rose Parade, there are thousands of cramped, calloused, freezing, and bleeding hands, hours of dedicated service, and hundreds of shivering people meticulously working so the finished product will be magical.

I ventured behind the scenes of the world famous Pasadena Rose Parade – the conclusion? There is nothing glamorous about the parade we all adore… There are large periods of time when there may be nothing for you to do, and you cannot go inside… Working on the floats is not as clean as you might expect. The glue that is used doesn’t come out of your clothes, the seeds used to decorate get all over you, and you must work quickly, diligently, and accurately. Flower preparation is cleaner, but still difficult. It entails cutting hundreds of flowers (irises, roses, daisies…) into set measurements and stuffing them into small vials of water. It may be hard and boring at times, but seeing the finished product on national television and knowing that everyone is admiring parts of your handiwork is one of the best feeling that is truly indescribable. – Bridget Gehan ’18, Decorator

The Rose Parade is unique because every inch of the parade is covered in a piece of vegetation. The idea was that the parade would be covered in the flowers that grew in California all year round, where in other places the flowers would have to be picked in summer – not winter. Today, the parade receives imported flowers from all over California, especially in recent years with the historic Southern California drought. In some cases, leaves, flowers, seeds, or palm fronds are picked up from neighborhoods in the dash to cover every inch of the float.

It was really an amazing experience… It was a long and very cold day, so sharing the experience helped keep our spirits high. To walk in the parade, I had to complete my Gold Award and Boy Scouts ad to achieve Eagle Scout and then apply and interview for a spot. Once accepted we had a month of rehearsals where we practiced the flag ceremony and marching with the banners. On the day of the parade, I had to be at the Girl Scout service center in Arcadia at 3am to put IN uniforms on and place the rose parade ribbons and patches on my vest. We (myself and the other girls) then bused over to the tournament house to help set up. We pulled out the banners and put them in order. At around 7am the flag ceremony began, followed by the opening ceremonies where we had to move the crowds so a drone could fly over and film the line of floats before they moved. Afterward, we picked up our banners and got in front of our floats and waited for the parade to begin! – Melina Mallory ‘17, hand picked to be a banner bearer in the 2017 parade

Mallory and the other participating scouts held banners that stated what prize the float had won, which group had sponsored the float, or what the float was. Each year the floats are judged based on design, floral craftsmanship, artistic merit, thematic interpretation, computerized animation, floral and color presentation, and dramatic impact, according to the tournament’s official site. A panel of three people who are known as civic or floral industry leaders are appointed as the judges each year. Judging for the awards takes part in multiple stages, most of which occur the night before the parade. The competition is a friendly exhibit of camaraderie and is meant to bring everybody participating (viewers, or other participants) closer and more united for the new year.

Liz Hicks, Queen of the Trader Joe’s float, strikes a pose for her close up. (Photo by Bridget Gehan and caption by Erin Neil.)

I worked on the Trader Joe’s float in the 2011 Tournament of Roses. Trader Joe’s has had a float for over 15 years and everyone I’ve seen has won a trophy. Many people just write essays on why they should be chosen, but I was nominated by my captain who probably
wrote something as well. This was all a secret to me, but then one day she called me and told me she had amazing news, and I totally flipped. We had a meeting early that week where they revealed the concept art and told us what our “parts” were and give us our costumes. The float had a bunch of chefs, but the focal point was the King and Queen at a table for two, 20 feet in the air and I was to be the Queen! We were all kept close at hand that week.. My favorite moment was towards the very end of the parade. My friend sent me a picture she took off her TV screen. It was a close up of me. It really encapsulates how weird and crazy and incredible the whole experience was, and felt when it was happening in real time.
Liz Hicks, Queen of Trader Joe’s Float 2011

After 127 years of parades, the Tournament of Roses is still as beautiful as the day it started, though there is a little more work, time, and money that goes into the current process. The work may be hard, tiresome, frustrating, and cold, but the hopes and dreams that the parade represents are worth every bit of blood, sweat, and tears that go into it.


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