16 September, Hastings City
The tradition of a public procession to mark the turn of the year from Winter to Spring is an old one. From Brazil’s Carnaval, to Ireland’s St Patricks Day; Japan’s Sakura Matsori to India’s Holi to Nigeria’s Ikeji, the urge to take to the streets and delight in the annual miracle of nature’s rebirth is strong across cultures. Hastings’ Blossom Parade cannot boast of the centuries’ long lineage of these other festivals, having been established a mere sixty-seven years ago, in 1950. But New Zealand is a young country and as such affords its inhabitants the opportunity to come together to co-create their own traditions and rituals, informed by, but not beholden to, the lands and peoples they have consciously left behind.
Blessed by a glorious (in the sun) spring day, the parade was heard before it was seen, heralded by the deep bass boom of the Wellington Batucada Band. In the lead were Auckland’s White Face Crew dressed as larger-than-life-sized pot plants. Veterans of last year’s Arts Festival and fresh from Edinburgh, their jovial prancing and mime set the tone for the event. They were followed by national champions and local heroes from Hastings Boys’ High School, who made little concession to blossoms or spring time with their float but were jubilantly buoyed along by their popularity in bringing notoriety to Hastings, and by our collective obsession with rugby. Closely on their heels came an array of the diverse and disparate community groups that make up the patchwork quilt that is Hastings. Whether united by culture or ethnicity, religion or a shared passion, they came together to create a picture that was far more than the sum of its parts.
There were military style groups in regimented rows and regalia, some displaying badges of achievement, some beating tattoo with pipes and drums. There were clubs and teams showcasing their skills be they feats of athleticism from cheerleaders, displays of prowess from the various martial artists, exhibits of edible couture, drummers from far and wide, girls on skates in a flurry of pink tulle, drama groups with papier-mâché effigies and impressive staff twirling. Hastings Drama Workshop won the People’s Choice award with an array of children dressed in cardboard sandwich boards of various fruits of their own design and choosing.
There were the costume enthusiasts- a plethora of vintage and Art Deco aficionados from the traditionalists to the Steampunk fantasists. The NZ Armed Constabulary took the costume prize with their vintage horse drawn carriages and their authentic livery.
There were awareness groups promoting their causes- Cranford Hospice, Muscular Dystrophy, Silver Legends- an outreach group for older people, a group offering support and awareness for women’s health and victims of domestic abuse; and Gamble Free Hawkes Bay. The latter two felt particularly pertinent, acknowledging the darker aspects of Hastings’ culture but cast in a ray of hope.
There were the Hastings institutions- the bank; the Fire Fighters; the Council, who won the Business Prize with an explosion of pink flowers; the Arts Festival; the Fiesta of Lights and the Farmers Market- an earthy bunch pulling wagons of produce, perhaps the only entrants to the ‘Natural Blossom’ category, therefore claiming the prize.
There were many many Early Childhood Centres. Te Kura o Mangeteretere went all out and were awarded the School’s prize with their colossal beehive, blossoms and adorable children dressed as bees.
There was a rainbow tapestry of cultural groups, far more diverse than I, in my ignorance, imagined had made Hastings their home. Chinese, Filipino, Sri Lankan, Pasifika, and several groups of religious and secular Indians were represented in colourful traditional dress. The ‘Artificial Blossom’ prize went to Hastings Methodist Church, with a stunning float crafted from tapa cloth and accentuated by their melodious singing. The Falun Dafa group created a vision of lotus flowers, traditional movement and elaborate dress, and claimed the Community prize. Special mention must be made of the Sri Lankan float in the guise of a peacock with a fabulous foliage tail, containing a gaggle of girls adorned in sparkling blue green. One of several Maori groups stood out with their striking papier-mâché creation, their arresting face paint and their manner of engaging with the crowd.
And then there were the little piques and touches of spark that made the parade unique. There was Christine in her tiny car, grandkids in the back, careening around the roundabout. There was a vintage but very real steam roller that made slow, wood fuelled progress to the fascination of children and adults alike. There was the man who trailed improbably large and longevitious soap bubbles from a pair of tall sticks. There was the old timey undertaker pushing an elderly woman in a wheeled coffin. Representing the DIY Coffin Club, she wore her glad rags and waved merrily. And of course there was the pageantry of Fringe in the ‘Stings. The oversized tricycle that weaved in and out of capering wolves pursued by a persistent lamb were deservedly awarded the prize for Humour.
The festivities continued at the prize giving with performances from the Saints and Soldiers Gatka Academy and International Glamour Models. The latter, a diverse group of jewel encrusted ladies ranging from seven to seventy in bridal raiment and gravity defying high heels, performed a languid, gestural dance to a popular song. Hobbled by their footwear, by necessity they moved only from the waist up, inspiring a plethora of thoughts about gender and the patriarchy that might be better suited to another forum.
The former, hailing from Hastings’ Sikh Temple, displayed an awe-inspiring and athletic array of weaponry that was my children’s highlight of the day and would not have been out of place on the set of Game of Thrones. The boys spoke freely and articulately about their religion and tradition, and of the misconceptions and stereotyping that they commonly face. For me this brought home the essence of the festival- an opportunity for different groups who share the same space to engage with one and other have a shared cultural experience. A true embodiment of this year’s theme, ‘Celebrate Hastings’.
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