Only San Antonio Texas has parades held on a river, some at night. The San Antonio River, a man-made river that flows through downtown San Antonio was built in the 1920’s under the influence of The Women’s League as a tourist attraction. It still is.
Floats are built on barges that move gently downstream, giving a unique spectacle seen nowhere else in the United States. Each barge is unique, featuring groups, clubs, organizations, bands, even the San Antonio Spurs have their own barge. Several singing stars have taken part in the river parades of San Antonio. They are always a huge event to attend as well as watch on television.
Parking space is premium, but the municipal bus system, VIA, has special busses that will take people to parades and events for a special fee. These busses will leave from “park and rides” (park your car, leave it there for free, and take the bus), take passengers to the event and return to that particular park and ride. They pick up no other passengers or routes.
The Ford Holiday River Parade & Lighting Ceremony is held in November, in 2007 it will be on the 23rd. There are tens of thousands of lights that will be illuminated, forming a sparkling canopy over the river walk. The lights will be turned on each night through January 1st. Passing by on the bus at 6am, on my way to work, when there are no other people around, it appears as a myriad of multi-colored jewels on the water. Simply breathtaking. Over 150,000 people will be present to witness the parade, while millions will enjoy it on television. This is one of the only night time river parades in the United States.
The Texas Cavalier’s River Parade
This is truly one of the most unique parades in America. Held during the daytime during Fiesta Week (mentioned later), over 250,000 people attend to witness all the brightly colored and well-decorated barges featuring bands, organizations, groups, The Texas Cavaliers, and The Rey Feo (The Ugly King- he’s not really ugly, that’s his title). Millions more watch on television.
Saint Patrick’s Day River Dyeing Parade
Yes, there is a river parade for good ‘ol St. Paddy. Thirty-five pounds of non-toxic dye is poured into the San Antonio River to turn it green. It’s then officially renamed “The River Shannon” for the day. This is the start of the three day celebration for St. Patrick. Why three days? San Antonio’s parties aren’t short or small.
There are regular parades, with motor driven floats on wheels through downtown San Antonio, but none harness the energy, fascination and wonder of seeing the barge floats on the River.
San Antonio has festivals going back to the 1920’s, the largest and longest is Fiesta. Lasting a week and with dozens of events all over the city, people from all over the world come to participate. Usually held during the third week of April streets are closed off, food is brought in by the tons, there are events for both children and adults. Hundreds of thousands of people participate. The Texas Cavaliers have a website that gives a daily list of events, times and parades.
One of the events is the Investiture of King Antonio LXXXII, the King of Fiesta. Not to be confused with the Rey Feo. There is also a Queen’s coronation, along with the ceremony of crowning her court. Whole stories can be done on these costumes alone, as all of them since the 1920’s have been hand-made in San Antonio. They can be seen at the Witte Museum on Broadway Street.
Although the 2007 Fiesta is past, plans are hard underway for Fiesta 2008, and every hotel and motel in town and the surrounding area are booking in advance. Don’t wait too long, or the only place to stay will be “hoping to find a friend” in San Antonio.
This is my favorite event of all. Lasting only four days in the first weekend of June, it is a celebration of all the cultures that come together to make up San Antonio. For many years I worked there as part of the First Aid team. I have met people from all over the world who travel to San Antonio for just this event. It’s held at the Institutive for Texan Cultures, something I have never seen anywhere else. It’s a museum dedicated not only to Texas history, but to ALL the cultures of the people who built it, and live here still. Visit their website at http://www.texancultures.utsa.edu/tff/tff2007/history.html. Again, book way ahead for a hotel/motel room.
I have collected recipes from all over the world at the food booths; they are given freely to anyone who asks. My favorite is tabouleh from Lebanon. Alas, mine doesn’t taste quite like the grandmothers make it. Even the Cajuns wouldn’t share their secrets for the “true gumbo.” When I would ask for their secrets, they smile. Who says cooks are different across cultural lines?
One can witness dancing from Ireland, American Indians, Lebanese, Scotland and much more. Storytellers abound from different cultures. Handcrafts galore are featured everywhere. Old west cowboys, caballeros, ladies bandits and banditos put on shows.
The one thing that truly makes this my favorite event: It’s almost all HANDS ON. Want to learn to use a spinning wheel? No problem sit down and try. Want to quilt? Pull up a chair and take a few stitches. Interested in making bread or jelly? Lye-soap making? There are booths for that. Two things that are kept out of the public’s hands, though, for safety are the blacksmithing and sheep-shearing. Hot forges are not for little hands, and letting professionals handle the shearing are better for the public and the sheep.
I could write a whole book on the differentfestivals and parades of San Antonio Texas throughout the course of a single year. There’s a lot more to see and do. Visit the San Antonio visitors web page at http://www.sanantoniocvb.com and see for yourself. You’d be surprised.
Ya’ll come, sit a spell, and enjoy!