Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade 2000 - Mascot Mayhem in NY's largest parade.
Costume Network's Launch - Guerilla marketing and many laughs.
The History of Halloween - From Paganism to Escapism
The growing trend of Halloween in Paris - Mon Dieu! C'est terrible!
The establishment's answer to NY's Halloween parade, the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is the largest and best-organized New York City parade with hundreds of costumers marching along with many beautiful floats and the parade's signature balloons.
Unlike the complete chaos of the Halloween parade, this Parade runs like clockwork in sync with the TV coverage that needs to conclude in time for viewers to prepare for their day of family and gluttony. Because of this, most floats are in place before 7am to be fully prepared for the 9am launch of the parade. Also unlike the Halloween parade, there are strict participation protocols. Since this event is sponsored by Macy's, you must be invited by someone at Macy's or by one of the many sponsors who pay to have a group in the parade.
Despite the costume-less politicians and semi-celebrities hamming for the cameras, the many creative costumes and other visual spectacles make this parade an impressive costuming event in its own right. As the parade passes, it is obvious that many participants had spent hours working on their costumes and make-up. This year, the Macy's gang organized several diversely themed clown groups while there were also hordes of cheerleaders, marching bands and, of course, mascots, mascots, mascots.
Commercialism not withstanding, this event does make for an interesting spectacle as these large companies throw gobs of money at this promotional opportunity in an effort to out-do the next "act" in the parade line. The result is an amazing array of colors and creativity meant to titillate and leave a lasting impression. Mixed in with the more high-profile corporate efforts, there is also room for smaller companies, non-for-profit agencies and lots 'o children all smiling and waving to the crowds.
Costume Network has launched and nothing will ever be the same again
The date was the first Halloween of Millennium at a time when interest in Halloween was soaring. The infamous New York City Parade was to be televised nationally for the first time and a warm front was moving into the metropolitan area to stoke the flames of this annual rite. Something big was going to happen and Costume Network would not disappoint...
Costume Networks' "Day of Hype" began when three costumed team members braved the New York City dawn in extravagant costumes. After some strange looks and rejection at the Howard Stern Show, the undaunted costumers trudged over to Rockefeller Center and the home of the top weekday morning program, NBC's "Today Show" which was having its fifth annual costume contest in the public space outside of the studio.
The Costume Network team included a stunning Wonder Woman complete with a homemade costume that had aficionados gaping, an eight-foot Monty Python & The Holy Grail character on stilts and an Alien Warrior from a popular syndicated science-fiction show. Arriving before the rush, our team was able to stake out a favorable position and had soon elbowed their way in front of several timid tourists for an unobstructed view of the cameras.
As the three-hour show developed and the cameras flashed over the colorful crowd growing outside, the CN team managed to display its logo several times and even engaged weatherman Al Roker in some Monty Python-esque banter. Eventually, co-host Katie Couric decided to approach the crowd to find costumes worthy of the contest. As fortune would have it, Katie had soon engaged our Wonder Woman and Alien Warrior. When asked about his costume, the Alien utilized shameless guerilla marketing tactics and immediately mentioned "CostumeNetwork.com" and flashed a logo placard - much to the chagrin of Ms. Couric and the director who quickly pulled back to a wide angle shot. Several thousand site hits were generated along with many congratulatory emails from well-wishers impressed with the success of such a high visibility PR coup.
The next stop was ABC's "Regis Live" which had sent out foot soldiers to recruit costumers away from the competition. Regis was producing a "Medieval Halloween Special" that had their entire staff in Renaissance garb with Regis and his wife perched on thrones. Despite being placed in the cheap seats, our intrepid team managed a few logo flashings while recruiting some of the more creative costumers to join them later that evening at the Halloween Parade.
New York City's Halloween parade has been growing in popularity and this year was to be the first year for live national TV coverage (by the USA Network and its subsidiary Sci-Fi Channel). Knowing this, Costume Network had designed a UFO float complete with flashing lights and music mixed by one of the top fashion industry music personalities. The rules were simple - 1. Excellent costumes only! 2. No Bathrooms = No Beer and 3. Watch Out! when the space ship's fire extinguisher powered "engines" engage.
As the CN technical team swarmed over the float, our Wonder Woman and a red armor clad "Aries" were helping a crew from Japan's Nippon TV Network produce a segment for its popular "Zoom-In Asa" morning show. With the reporter Akiko Imai wearing the Alien Warrior Costume from the earlier Today Show stunt, our team shamelessly flashed the CN logo when the live TV cameras turned their way. Japan has many colorful costumer groups and CN could not miss the opportunity to engage so many enthusiastic people.
And then the real fun began
As the parade lurched forward, the Costume Network Spaceship Float throbbed to life with many colorful costumes and a mix of dance oriented Sci-Fi, Halloween and popular music selections. The CN float soon became the place to be and costumed gatekeepers were posted to hold back all costumeless wannabees.
For three hours, the Costume Network float bounced under the weight of over 50 frenzied dancers while the crowd and nearby parade participants grooved to the energy and tunes of this colorful juggernaut. By all accounts, this was the most exciting float in the parade. Fittingly, Costume Network was TV's final "act" as the dual USA/Sci-Fi broadcast reached its 9pm conclusion. CN brought the house down with "Who Let the Dog's Out!" and the cameras faded to black.
Not to worry The Costume Network ship is just warming up. Hop on board.
For more float pictures, go to gallery's *Special Events section.
To some, Halloween is a creative occasion when adults and kids work together on costumes and household decorations. To others, it is the time to make the annual pilgrimage to the local mega-mart to buy the "costume in a bag" version of the latest cartoon character craze while loading up on pounds of sugar. Always popular with kids, Halloween is now the #2 consumer holiday with more and more adults taking part in the festivities and going to costume parties. Whether it's the best time of the year or another overly-marketed Hallmark holiday, it certainly ain't Easter.
Over the years and centuries Halloween has grown and morphed depending on the cultures and the times. Halloween's origins pre-date the 5th Century, B.C. as an ancient Celtic Festival called Samhain (pronounced sow-en). The Celts, who at the time inhabited Ireland, Great Britain and northern France, celebrated October 31 as New Years Eve which was their most important holiday. It was a pagan event celebrating the harvest and preparing for winter. The belief was that dead relatives could visit families on that night, so masks were worn to ward off the evil ones while food was used to enticed the good.
The Romans conquered the Celts in 43 A.D. and over the next 400 years, incorporated their own festivals including Feralia, which was a Roman holiday in late October honoring the dead. In the 7th Century, Pope Boniface designated All Saint's day the day to honor Saints and martyrs, as an attempt to pre-empt the Celtic holiday with one recognized by the Catholic Church. The Olde English name for this holiday was All-Hallowmas and the night before became All-Hallows Eve, and ultimately Halloween.
As Northern Europeans immigrated to North America, they brought their Halloween traditions to share with their neighbors. As the years passed, the religious connotations subsided and now, for most, the occasion is one of community, creativity and "letting loose". In an age when many are becoming withdrawn from their neighbors, this is the night when children, often with their parents in tow, approach others' homes and introduce themselves with the familiar refrain "Trick or Treat". While the dangers and occasional rowdiness often make headlines, the sense of community, most pronounced in America's suburban sprawl, is reinforced by this wonderful night.
Interest in Halloween is growing fastest amongst young adults who actively celebrate with their children or participate in costume events, such as parades, masquerade balls and roll playing games. As society continues to embrace fantasy outlets such as video games and films, the opportunity to don an alternative persona or 'go crazy' in disguise captivates a growing number of people interested in interacting with their friends, neighbors and complete strangers in new and more interesting ways. In fact, interest in the North American version of Halloween is now growing quickly in France and the British Isles, completing a circle in history.
The French attitude towards Halloween seems to mirror their attitude towards many things French and non-French. Against the backdrop of their ancient capitol the revival of a holiday older than Christendom lurks in the shadows while a modern festival takes hold. The dying fall light grows long behind gothic statues and soaring buttresses while a party atmosphere begins to give meaning to a long honored day.
Halloween, dubbed "All Saints Day" long, long ago by an extinct breed of evangelical Church Fathers had deep roots in this nation that was once ruled by Celtic Tribes. In this Catholic country, unlike nearly every other day on the Christian Calendar, this one is too special to be merely allocated to one Saint. The idea of "All Saints" also reflects just a touch of the ancient Celtic belief that a myriad of spirits, both good and evil, would return to the earth on this sacred day to again join the world of the living.
Combine this with the typically French characteristic of "inventing" or "discovering" almost everything and the paradox emerges. They "invented" the Internet, except that their version, known as the "minitel" flopped miserably and is all but extinct beneath the weight of the World Wide Web. They "invented" the airplane, except that the horse drawn glider, akin to a man carrying a kite, was never attached to an engine and is remembered only by them. Physics, rocket science, electricity, the telephone, wine, the automobile, steam engine, photography and virtually all that is marvelous will find some tenuous beginning within the hexagon that some hot blooded Latin son of France shall claim for her greater glory.
So it is with Halloween. Except that when the fall closes fast and the short autumn days cast their gray pallor over the centuries worn stone sentinels which keep watch over the grand cathedrals and narrow cobblestone streets, this fiction is not hard to embrace. The City of Paris has played host to so many scenes of ghastly fascination, from the massacre of the innocents during the wars of religion, the burning of witches during the dark ages to countless scenes of individual horror that magnify and reflect every dark facet of the human character, it hardly matters what particular day marks the occasion.
But one day does. Halloween, the ancient festival of the Celts that marked the end of fall and the beginning of the winter begged the indulgence of hostile spirits to allow the low ebb of life to flicker through the dark, cold season. Hungry spirits were thought to crowd the living and their herds (early Celts were nomadic cattle farmers) and had to be driven off by fires and noise. Also, disenchanted spirits would seek their kin, or enemies, so disguises were needed to confuse the unwanted dead on this particular day.
Modern Paris is a clairvoyant's playground with the unhappy dead population many times that of the living. Whether the unfortunates met their fate at the hands of the Vikings in the dark ages, perished from ignorance during medieval times or were snuffed out by a revolutionary mob seems to matter little. Individual tales of suffering, lost in the whirlwind of history crowd every space, where once was a home, a barricade, a gallows or a prison.
Now the living are being drawn back to the dead. Of course, the motivation is typically French in that the ends forget the means though paradoxically claim to be inspiration.
When I first landed in Paris in 1995, Halloween was about as popular as Thanksgiving in that it was quietly celebrated within the tight knit circle of ex-pats, almost exclusively American. A slow trickle of bars adopted the holiday and promoted participation in an effort to wring profit from an otherwise undistinguished evening. The bulk of the English speaking community followed suit over the next couple of years, with varying degrees of success.
At one party, hosted in a pub in 1997, the disguised mingled uncomfortably with the normally clad as each eyed each other with mutual suspicion. The costume clad couldn't help but feel cheated for their efforts and the non-dressed hovered between discomfort at missing the boat and relief for not making a fool out of themselves. This inevitably led to a "soft" costume market where any cheap mask or cloak served as a legitimate effort.
Those days are past as the French holiday has come home and the Parisians seized upon the event with Latin verve. On Halloween 1999 the streets were flooded with outfits like a suburban neighborhood at dusk, and the ghouls raised themselves from their long slumber to enjoy resurrection. The living celebrated with French flair as the celebration was no longer limited to the ex-pat community and the "reserve" of those who had declined the urge to dress up was swept aside with evangelical fervor.
The number of costume stores that opened demonstrated the success and speed with which the nation embraced the festivities. During the four years I was there, dozens popped up. The proliferation of parties was explosive as bars paid premiums for add space leading up to the holiday. Competitions offered more and more elaborate, expensive prizes and the affair have now become a national event.
Halloween has taken "American style" marketing to the next level in France infecting other holidays as well. St. Valentine's day has followed closely on the heels of Halloween and eager storeowners cram their tiny windows with hearts and other marketing displays. Seen as crass "Yankee Colonialism" the French shun such practices overtly but someone is buying the products, and someone else is profiting from the exercise. These holidays are boosting normally quiet "dead zones" in the French holiday calendar and a Nation with 11% unemployment cannot afford the luxury of ignoring good commercial opportunities.
Whatever the case, or cause, the holiday seems here to stay. How much the French actually identify with their pre-Christian ancestors and to what degree they empathize with the hungry spirits of their ancient land is a matter of conjecture. The costume-clad partygoers are happy for the creation of another night out. The capitalist eagerly embraces another "traditional" holiday and justifies it however he can. The everyday Frenchmen swells with Gallic pride at yet another contribution to society born of his native soil, patting himself on the back for the gift of Halloween.