An Insider's Guide to Rose Parade 2012

Whether you're streetside or on your couch at home when the parade begins, you'll love getting some behind-the-scenes color from a Pasadena resident.

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Grab a cup of cocoa and settle in for some great TV viewing as the 123rd annual Rose Parade rumbles through the streets of Pasadena. As a proud resident of the City of Roses and a 20-year veteran of parade-going, I envy those of you who get to skip the early wake-up call, the traffic and the parking hassles to watch the parade on TV. Still, I don't want you to miss hearing about some of the behind-the-scenes color. Here's a sampling:

Never on Sunday
You may be wondering why the Rose Parade is on Jan. 2 this year, instead of on New Year's Day like it's supposed to be! In 1893 the organizers made an agreement with local parishes not to hold the parade on Sunday so as not to disturb worship services or the horses tied up in front of churches. Pasadenans like to say that the reverent gesture is responsible for the lack of rainfall on the parade, with only 10 wet parades in 122 years.

Volunteers in White Suits
The whole shebang is put on by a nonprofit volunteer organization called the Tournament of Roses. These community do-gooders handle everything from the monstrous task of parade logistics to choosing the bands to parking the cars to negotiating TV deals to serving hamburgers post-march, all for no pay, for little glory and dressed in all white. The White Suiters, as the volunteers are known here, collectively put in thousands of volunteer hours annually to present Pasadena to the world, giving up their holidays and a tiny bit of their dignity in those outfits.

Hats Off to the Bands
Give a big cheer to the teenaged Bandies, their moms and dads and the many bake sales it took to get them all to Pasadena. On parade day, they have to line up at 4 am to prepare for the 5.5-mile march. The TV cameras catch the bands at their brightest moment; local folks see the blisters on their feet at the end of the road. (Honestly, could somebody make a supportive shoe for those poor flag girls?) 

Making Up the Royalty
Each member of the Royal Court starts the process in October as an ordinary high school girl with big dreams, not a pageant pro with big hair. On Jan. 2, Queen Drew and her princesses will rise at 3 am to get ready for their big day, prepared to look regal (and not just simply cold!) in their gowns and tiaras. To us, each girl on the Court is somebody's niece, so-and-so's babysitter or your hairdresser's daughter.

Celebrity Spotting and More
This year’s Grand Marshal is war veteran and Dancing With the Stars winner J. R. Martinez. Sprinkled in among the flowers will be astronauts, surfing dogs and an homage to Elizabeth Taylor. But the undertaking getting the biggest buzz around town this year is the float representing the Girl Scouts, the first time the organization, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary, has entered a float. Dozens of lucky local girls will be featured as riders, and more than 700 Girl Scout volunteers per day are on decorating duty in the final week.

See the Parade in Person
Civic pride requires me to invite you to Pasadena for the Rose Parade. For hearty souls, try camping out along the parade route for free seats and a memorable New Year's Eve. Imagine celebrating with thousands of strangers, sleeping on the sidewalk in 30-degree temperatures and then waking up to front-row seats to the Rose Parade.

Campers start lining the parade route at noon the day before, no early birds allowed. Bring all the blankets, folding chairs and sleeping bags you can carry.

To avoid camping out all night and to get access to free coffee and facilities, buy tickets in the stands close to the intersection of Colorado and Orange Grove, otherwise known as "TV Corner." Watching the huge floats and block-long bands make that sharp turn in front of dozens of cameras is worth the $75 ticket price, especially if this is a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Rose Parade 2012: Float Pix, Fun Facts and More


Lian Dolan is the author of Helen of Pasadena, a novel.

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