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I Decorated a Rose Parade Float!

I helped decorate a Rose Parade float! One of those big ones you see on television every New Years Day rolling down the streets in Pasadena, CA.


I’m not going to oversell. I was hardly the key ingredient in designing the float or coordinating its construction. But, I really did help put on the seeds and grasses contributing to the final product.


Photo of author applying materials over his head on Rose Parade float.
Make sure to keep your mouth closed when decorating under a flamingo's wings. **

Several years back I was watching the parade and thought how exciting it would be to work on one of those. I did some stage design for award shows back in the day, so these kinds of things are sort of in my blood, and have always been fascinated by how these floats were created.


Out of curiosity, I did some Googling back then and discovered several of the floats accept volunteers every year. At that point in time I wasn’t in a place where I could fly out to Los Angeles, or spend vacation time, just for that purpose. I did mention it in passing to Darling Daughter (DD) and though I didn’t forget about it, I put thoughts of it off to the side.


Fast forward to early last December. DD now lives in Orange, CA. We were discussing Christmas plans and, for a variety of reasons unnecessary for me to detail here, decided to postpone it a bit and I would fly out for New Years.


I didn’t put two and two together, but she did. She remembered me talking about wanting to work on one of the floats, sent me a note about a week after our discussion about Christmas plans, and says, hey, why don’t we see if we can volunteer?


Photo of parade float with base covered in blue.
Covering all that blue with green moss was our first duty. **

We found a handful of floats accepting volunteers, I’ll post links down at the bottom if you’re interested in doing this yourself, and landed on the Downey Rose Float Association, the closest to where she lives.


It’s amazingly simple to volunteer. There’s a release form you'll need to complete, in case you take a header off the top of the float, or find your fingers permanently glued together. Also, check out the volunteer rules and guidelines on the website.


Then you just show up in the morning, check in, and they start assigning people to tasks. One piece of advice, show up early. Like, maybe even a little before the start time listed on the website. Enough people do volunteer that they can run out of jobs.


With the Downey float, they decorate from Dec. 26 through the 31st. It’s a very small window. You can volunteer every day or, as we did, just for a single day.


I was amazed at how quickly things came together. We were there on the 30th and when we started I thought to myself, “self, how are they ever going to get this done by tomorrow?”


But, as the old saying goes, many hands make light work. With so many worker bees buzzing about the float, in the course of a day it went from something resembling only slightly more than a lot of framework with the starting of decoration, to nearly a completed piece.


Photo of woman gluing pink substance onto parade float flamingo
Darling Daughter working away on the flamingo's wing. **

Their theme this year was Rhythm of the Caribbean with the float featuring five enormous pink flamingos.


We had a couple of tasks, beginning with gluing patches of green moss all around the flooring of the float. We were given chunks of moss, anywhere from four inches to a foot in length, tore them off in random sizes, slapped glue on them and stuck them to the float.


The glue was the regular ol’ white stuff we’ve all used since we were kids. The major difference being this glue comes in what I’m guessing were 25-gallon barrel drums, maybe more, and we were pouring it through a spigot into aluminum pans, the kind you might use to cook your turkey come Thanksgiving-time.


Our second task was covering the underside portions of the flamingos’ wings. Those are really big wings.


We used a combination of white rice and, if memory serves me correctly, cayenne, that was ground together into fine pieces, resulting in a pinkish color. We used a cheap paint brush to brush the glue onto the wing and then a sponge to pick up the pink stuff and press it into the glue.


One thing to know, if you volunteer, you will find yourself wearing glue before your work is done. Wear old clothes.


Photo of large screen television with Rose Parade float on screen and title, Wrigley Legacy Trophy.
The float was a winner! So much fun to watch it on New Year's Day. **

As you can imagine, working under the wings, a lot of the work was above our heads and the process is hardly an exact science, so glue is dripping and the pink stuff is falling into your face.


Best thing about it, it’s all organic. If you don’t know, everything inch of these floats has to be covered with organic materials.


It was a great experience. I highly recommend anyone thinking about it to just jump in and do it.


Depending on how Christmas/New Years plans work out for us this year, I’m thinking we may well find ourselves volunteering again come December.


And, we must have done an ok job. The float won the parade’s Wrigley Legacy Trophy for most outstanding display of floral presentation, float design and entertainment.


Luckily, someone shot video of the float in action and posted it on YouTube:




Here’s links to the floats I found who take volunteers. I would not be surprised if there are more.

Please also check each of their respective guidelines. I’m guessing there will be differences between them. I can only speak to my experience with the Downey float for which Darling Daughter and I volunteered.



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**I allow use of my photos through Creative Commons License. I'm not looking to make money off this thing. I only ask you provide me with credit for the photo by noting my blog address, alansheaven.com, or a link back to this page.

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