New York celebrates several festivals and events which are common to the rest of the USA but the celebrations of these festivals are unique to the city itself and display a certain New York City twist.
The Passover Festival
This festival which commemorates the Hebrew escape from enslavement in Egypt is one of the biggest celebrations of the large New York City based Jewish community. The history behind the Passover festival is catalogued in the book of Exodus in the Bible which states that God inflicted ten plagues on the Egyptians before the Pharaoh was compelled to release the Hebrews. It is said that when the Pharaoh liberated the Hebrews they left in such a hurry that they didn’t even wait for the bread to rise. Hence during Passover no leavened bread is eaten and unleavened bread, Matzo, is the symbol of this festival which usually takes place during the months of March and April. The festival is celebrated with a ‘seder’ dinner during which Jewish families get together and read the story of the Exodus of Egypt while they dine on special kosher foods which are served on tables that are usually elaborately decorated with the family’s finest china and silver.
St Patrick’s Day
This Irish festival which is an annual feast that celebrates the most famous patron saint of Ireland, St Patrick, has been celebrated with great fan fare in New York City since 1762. The city hosts a holds a magnificent parade (http://nyc-st-patrick-day-parade.org/default.aspx) in honor of this festival. This parade features marching bands, step bands and other Irish organizations and is usually held on the 17th of March and if the 17th of March falls on a Sunday, the parade is then celebrated on Saturday the 16th of March. The St Patrick’s Day Parade starts off at 44th Street and fifth Avenue and winds its way north past the St Patrick’s Cathedral at 50th street and the American Irish Historical Society which is on 83rd Street until it gets to the Metropolitan Museum of Art which extends from 83rd Street to 86th Street, where it terminates at around 4:30 – 5:00 pm.
Feast of San Gennaro
Every year in September, San Gennaro, the patron saint of the city of Naples, is celebrated with much fanfare for ten days in the area known as ‘Little Italy’ which is located in the heart of New York City. During this grand celebration the streets of Little Italy are adorned with colorful streamers and decorative arches as the area’s many restaurateurs and food vendors also actively participate in the festivities by dishing out traditional Italian treats. Candlelight processions, religious parades, free musical entertainment, cannoli-eating competitions and souvenir vendors are all a part of this colorful spectacle which is known to attract more than a million tourists each year.
Halloween is celebrated all over the USA in the month of October but the Halloween celebrations are especially elaborate in New York City which plays host to a grand Halloween Parade. Millions of people line up on the sidewalks along Sixth Avenue from Spring Street to 21st Street to watch the costumed revelers and puppets who participate in a magnificent parade that starts at around 6pm and continues until 10 pm. The parade is unlit and relies on street lighting for illumination and since, at this time of the year, the sun in New York City sets early the resultant eerie darkness only seems to enhance the ambience of the parade which is traditionally led by rod puppets some of which are illuminated from within.
The New York City Halloween parade usually features fifty thousand elaborately and outlandishly decked revelers, dancers, floats and performers is also televised live on New York City’s local TV channel – NY1. The Halloween Parade in New York City was the brain child of a Greenwich Village puppeteer and mask-maker Ralph Lee, who created a wandering puppet show to entertain the children of friends and family in 1973 when crime and violence had robbed the festival of much of its glory. Through his puppet parade Ralph Lee hoped to create a safe environment for the children of the Village so that they could enjoy Halloween once again.
Children in New York City, like children in the rest of USA also ‘go trick or treating’ on Halloween during which they dress up in elaborate costumes and knock on their neighbor’s doors as they offer to perform a trick or get a treat. If you happen to be living in an apartment building in New York City for the duration of your stay in New York City, you will probably be asked if you will be willing to entertain the children of the apartment block on Halloween. If you agree to entertain the block’s they will be allowed to knock on your door and you will have to be ready with bags of candy for ‘the trick or treat’ ritual.
Christmas and Happy Holidays
New York City is a multicultural city which is home to people who belong to various faiths and ethnicities. Accordingly even though the city erects a huge Christmas tree in early December at its famed landmark, Rockefeller center (the lighting of this towering tree is a huge event which is covered by most TV channels and is usually attended by celebrities and star performers), the accepted greeting during this festive season is not ‘Merry Christmas’ but ‘Happy Holidays’.
The term ‘Happy Holidays’ was created to encompass all faiths especially the Jews who traditionally celebrate Hannukah (which extends over eight days and is celebrated with the lighting of the Hannukah which is a special menorah used at this time) and the African –American community which typically celebrates the festival of Kwanza during this time. Kwanza is a weeklong festival which celebrates African heritage and culture and is marked with the lighting of a Kinara (a type of candle), feasting and gift giving.
New Year’s Eve
The New Year’s Eve celebrations in Time Square are world famous as millions of people from all over the world brave usually freezing temperatures to gather in Times Square in Midtown Manhattan to watch ‘the ball drop’. This ball, which is the star of the show, is a ball made of crystal and electric (nowadays energy saving bulbs) lights that is raised on top of a pole atop One Times Square building. This ball is then lowered down the pole to usher in the New Year.
At 12am the ball is located at the top as millions of people join celebrities and performers in the countdown which guides the ball down the pole and heralds in the New Year. This event is also televised live on all the major TV channels in New York City including ABC network’s ‘Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin Eve’ which has covered the event for over three decades.