The color, excitement and pageantry of parades and processions on stamps
By Denise McCarty
The United States Postal Service issued its four Thanksgiving Day Parade stamps Sept. 9, 2009, in New York City in Macy’s Herald Square, home of one of the most popular parades, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. More than 8,000 people participate in it, 3.5 million watch in person, and as many as 50 million tune in on their television sets.
In a press release announcing the stamps, the Postal Service said that the stamp designs represent an iconic parade. Macy’s thought otherwise.
A 2009 press release from Macy providing “fun facts and figures for America’s parade” said that the USPS had issued a series a four stamps featuring the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Another fun fact in the press release was that Santa Claus had ended the parade every year, except in 1933 when he led it.
While the four se-tenant (side-by-side) 44¢ stamps (Scott 4417-4420) include many of the elements of this and other Thanksgiving Day parades — marching bands, horses and riders, giant character balloons, spectators, and even a television crew — Santa Claus is missing.
However, stamps from other countries pick up where the U.S. Thanksgiving Day Parade issue stops, showing Santa Claus or St. Nicholas in parades. For example, in 2011, France issued a nondenominated stamp (Scott 4028) showing a St. Nicholas Day parade in Lorraine. St. Nicholas Day is observed on Dec. 6.
Designs representing the Toronto Santa Claus parade are featured on Christmas stamps issued by Canada Nov. 2, 2004 (Scott 2069-2071). The stamps show Santa, the star of the parade, in a sleigh, as well as a Cadillac and a train. In its new-issue announcement, Canada Post said: “We all know he’s coming to town, but the question is how will he arrive? Driving a traditional sled, or conducting a vintage train? Or perhaps at the wheel of a flashy convertible?
“The guest of honour has made his grand entrance in all these vehicles over the years at Toronto’s venerable Santa Claus Parade. …”
Santa Claus parades also were the theme of Canada’s 1985 Christmas stamps (Scott 1067-1070). The Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue describes the designs as reproducing paintings by Barbara Carroll of Santa Claus, a horse-drawn coach, a Christmas tree and a polar float.
On a 2010 Christmas Parade stamp from Ascension Island, Santa rides in vehicle decorated to look a sleigh (Scott 1009).
Stamps from the islands of Malta and the Bahamas picture processions and parades celebrating the day before and the day after Christmas, respectively.
Malta’s first Christmas Eve procession was organized in 1921 by George Preca, a Roman Catholic priest who was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007. A 5¢ stamp issued by Malta Nov. 15, 1995, shows children in this procession carrying lamps and a life-size statue of the Baby Jesus through the streets (Scott 874). Similar scenes are depicted on semipostal stamps issued at the same time (875-877), as well as in 1970 (B4) and 1981 (B43).
The Bahamas celebrates Boxing Day, Dec. 26, with a Junkanoo festival and parade. The official website of the Bahamas Tourist Office describes the celebration: “Blending art, culture and music, local and national entertainers join the Junkanoo groups to parade through the streets.” Similar festivities and parades are held on New Year’s Day and in the summer.
People in colorful Junkanoo costumes are pictured on the 1999 and 2004 Christmas stamps from the Bahamas (Scott 965-968 and 1119-1124), and both the Boxing Day and New Year’s Day Junkanoo parades are depicted on stamps in the 2006 Christmas issue (1203, 1205).
The wintertime parade season continues with New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day and Chinese New Year parades. Two of the U.S. Postal Service’s Chinese New Year’s stamps, the 2009 Year of the Ox (Scott 4375) and 2012 Year of the Dragon (4623) show papier-mache animal figures from these parades.
A 1998 Walt Disney souvenir sheet from Guyana (Scott 3340c) features Tigger and other characters from Winnie-the-Pooh recreating the lion dance from a Chinese New Year’s parade, while a Hong Kong souvenir sheet includes photographs taken during Chinese New Year parades (1080). The latter sheet was part of a series issued in 2004 to promote tourism and the Hong Kong Stamp Expo held Jan. 30 through Feb. 3 that year. Each sheet in the series contains a single $10 stamp.
Many parades celebrating pre-Lenten festivals date back several centuries. One of these, Basel’s Carnival or Fasnacht parade, is shown across three se-tenant stamps issued by Switzerland Jan. 12, 2010 (Scott 1367).
Although the stamps mark the 100th anniversary of the Basel Carnival Committee, this Carnival event dates back to the 14th century. According to the Fasnachts Comite, processions, along with drumming, were banned in 1798. However, just four years later, in 1802, the first “orderly” procession was organized.
The committee describes the modern Basel parade: “More than 10,000 masked carnival members parade along a set route through the city centre displaying their ‘sujets’ or special carnival topics, accompanied by the sound of drums, piccolos and ‘Gugge’ music.
They travel by foot, on carnival floats or horse-drawn carriages, carrying lanterns and many other comical accessories. People in the procession throw confetti and distribute oranges, yellow mimosa and many other things to the spectators along the route.
Most groups also hand out their own colourful sheets of paper (‘Zeedel’) which make fun of local events and personalities in verse form, written in the unfathomable local Basel dialect.”
Several other European countries picture Carnival parades on stamps, including a stamp issued by Italy earlier this year, on Feb. 15. This €0.80 stamp depicts a float representing the allegorical character Peppe Nappa in Sciacca’s Carnival parade.
Carnival parades in other parts of the world are shown on stamps of India (Scott 2187), St. Pierre and Miquelon (966), Antigua (312-315) and Brazil (2301-2303), among others.
In the Roman Catholic and some other churches, a period of fasting follows Lent, leading up to Easter Sunday. A few stamps show related religious processions. A 1973 stamp from Monaco pictures a Good Friday procession (891), and Malta shows a photograph of an Easter Day procession on a €1.16 stamp issued June 16 of this year.
In announcing the new stamp, Malta Post said the photograph was taken in Zebbug, a village on the island of Gozo. A €0.26 stamp issued at the same time illustrates a procession for the feast of St. George in Victoria Gozo, which is celebrated in summer.
Parades are held around the world for numerous other holidays. For example, Ireland shows scenes from both the New York City and Dublin St. Patrick’s Day parades on St. Patrick’s Day stamps issued Feb. 28, 2003 (Scott 1458, 1459, 1461 and 1462), and spectators view a parade through large shamrock-shaped glasses on a stamp issued Feb. 7, 2013 (1986).
In announcing the 2013 stamp, Ireland’s An Post said: “Whether you’re talking about the remotest village in rural Ireland, cosmopolitan Dublin or emerald-bedecked Fifth Avenue in New York with its over 150,000 marchers, no celebration of Ireland’s patron saint would be complete without its own St. Patrick’s Day parade. These days, cities the world over — with an Irish expat population host their own parades. In fact, Ireland’s national holiday is celebrated in more countries throughout the world than any other.”
The New York St. Patrick’s Day parade sums up its history thus: “The New York City Saint Patrick’s Day Parade is our country’s oldest and proudest Irish tradition, marching for the first time more than 250 years ago, on March 17, 1762 - fourteen years before the Declaration of Independence.”
Parades on stamps aren’t limited to holidays. Several stamps honoring local festivals show parades. For instance, a car-shaped float made of lemons and oranges is pictured on a 2011 stamp from France honoring La Fete du Citron in Menton. The festival includes two parades: the Golden Fruit parade and a nighttime parade.
Royal, victory and military parades and processions are pictured on stamps, as well. A procession from 800 years ago is shown on the United States 1965 5¢ Magna Carta commemorative (Scott 1265). The procession of barons is shown across the top of the stamp’s design.
Queen Elizabeth II is picturing riding in the Trooping the Colour parade on a 2009 stamp from Australia celebrating her birthday (Scott 3067). The official website of the British monarchy provides a brief history of this ceremony held each June in London: “This military ceremony dates back to the early eighteenth century or earlier, when the colours (flags) of the battalion were carried (or ‘trooped’) down the ranks so that they could be seen and recognised by the soldiers.
“Since 1748, this parade has also marked the Sovereign’s official birthday. From the reign of Edward VII onwards, the Sovereign has taken the salute in person at Trooping the Colour.”
A patriotic parade in the United States is represented on the 32¢ The Stars and Stripes Forever! Stamp issued Aug. 21, 1997. The stamp’s title refers to the popular march tune of the same name composed by John Philip Sousa in 1897.
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