Can you guess what event consumes 18 million flowers annually?
The Tournament of Roses Parade - which takes place New Year’s Day in Pasadena, California, and is the world’s largest consumer of flowers in the world. From its inception 129 years ago, the floats have kept true to the event's title and heritage, by using real, fresh flowers, requiring every square inch of the exposed surface of a float entered in the parade to be covered with flowers or other natural materials.
"In New York, people are buried in the snow. Here our flowers are blooming and our oranges are about to bear. Let's hold a festival to tell the world about our paradise," proposed Professor Charles F. Holder at a Pasadena Hunt Club meeting in 1890. He and many of the new-comers to Southern California wished to showcase the advantages of their mild winter weather.
The parade included flower-covered horse-drawn carriages, marching bands and equestrian units. As the event grew in scope and size, the Rose Bowl, an “East/West” college football game was added in 1902 to help fund the cost of staging the parade.
This year the Rose Parade featured 44 floats, 20 equestrian units with approximately 400 horses, and 21 marching bands. The theme of the 2018 Rose Parade was "Making a Difference" and the Grand Marshal of the parade was veteran-friendly actor Gary Sinise.
While the event continues to feature local communities and organizational sponsors – some design, construct and decorate their floats solely on volunteer hours - but most are now built by professional float building companies and have fantastical size, computer-generated animation and even collapse to fit under a 55' bridge.
It remains a rule of the parade that all surfaces of the float framework must be covered in natural materials (such as flowers, plants, seaweeds, seeds, bark, vegetables, or nuts, for example); furthermore, no artificial flowers or plant material are allowed, nor can the materials be artificially colored. Last-minute volunteer opportunities are often available.
I would love to see all those flowers blanketing these monstrous floats and see how the floral constructors pull off these designs.
Interestingly, although the Rose Parade was created to showcase California’s fresh-cut flowers, four out of five flowers sold in the United States are now imported from abroad, according to the California Cut Flower Commission. In fact, it was reported in 2015 that only one of the 40 floral floats participating in the Rose Parade had been certified California Grown, meaning more than 85 percent of the flowers in the design came from local farmers.
It's hard to keep the spirit of any event true to it's meaning, especially while it grows in scope. Just like many of us may have experienced this past Christmas, what started as a celebration of unconditional giving can somehow transform into a burden of finding something "good" enough or "meaningful" enough to befit the holiday.
While 18 million flowers certainly make a statement, a few simple blooms in a vase can be just as impactful. A friend gave me a small arrangement this Christmas that still makes me smile every time I see it. Isn't that the spirit of flowers? Bringing a little piece of natural beauty and love into someone's life.
In this new year, let's commit to giving bouquets - no matter how big or small - because as J.D. Salinger said in The Catcher in the Rye, “who wants flowers when you're dead? nobody.”