Do you love animals and the natural world? Or dressing up and making your own costume? If so, you’ll love Bellingham’s Procession of the Species Parade as much I do. Everyone is welcome to join in this parade that celebrates community, creativity and nature on the first Saturday of each May, this year on May 4, 2019. You’ll find imaginative costumes, live music, dance and all the merriment that makes a parade fun for the whole family.
A Deep History
This Bellingham community staple is celebrating its 16th year in Whatcom County, but it got its start in our state’s capitol city. In January 1995, a group of Olympia, Washington residents wanted to organize an event to both celebrate the 25th anniversary of Earth Day and to support Congressional renewal of the Endangered Species Act. That group chose to create a community celebration as a positive show of support. They developed ideas for action and agreed on several basic tenets along with three simple rules:
- No motorized vehicles (except wheelchairs).
- No live animals or pets.
- No written or spoken slogans.
Since that heartfelt beginning, the Procession has spread around the world to more than 26 states and 5 countries including Canada, Romania, Czech Republic, New Zealand and Nicaragua. The parade was first introduced in Bellingham as part of the Centennial celebration in 2003 thanks to Former City Public Works Communications Coordinator Joy Monjure. With community and business support the event has been sponsored by the City of Bellingham’s Public Works and Parks & Recreation Departments. I’ve been attending this free annual event with my twins (and before they were born) for as long as it has existed in Whatcom County.
But the parade is so much more than one day. If you’re in the area during the weeks before the parade, Start Here Community Arts (SHCA), under the auspices of Allied Arts, works with the City and community volunteers to organize workshops for people to make costumes. Festivities have long been organized by volunteer Carol Oberton, a die-hard champion of the Procession. Join the Procession of the Species Bellingham’s Facebook page and watch for Community Art Studio events.
I love that this event continues to bring community together to celebrate our connection with nature and each other with fun, imaginative, noncommercial activities.
Everyone Can Participate
This is definitely not your typical parade. Literally anyone can be in the parade (as long as they follow the 3 rules above) and there is no registration or advanced notification required. Just show up! Everyone is encouraged to wear costumes, play percussion instruments and march together.
Even if you’re not into playing dress up, you’ll still appreciate the creativity behind the costumes as a spectator. You’ll likely want to snap photos of your favorite costumes. My kids and I name our favorites, gather ideas for next year’s costumes and often congratulate others on their costumes.
The Procession gathers in the Downtown Bellingham Arts District at City Hall on Lottie St at 3:30 p.m. The street is closed to create a safer environment. Everyone frolics on the Bellingham Public Library lawn until the procession begins at 4 p.m. The designated route runs through downtown along North Commercial, turning down West Holly Street. This promenade of wild beasts ends at Maritime Heritage Park where the community gathers for music, food and socializing that lasts on into the early evening, wrapping up at 5:45 p.m.
And its not just for kids either. This parade is for the creative and young at heart so bring the whole family and participate at whatever level feels comfortable to you.
Make your Own Costume
Home made costumes aren’t required but they’re highly encouraged. Honestly, the ingenious costumes are the best part. You can let your creativity shine and express yourself by coming dressed as your favorite species. Work at home, coordinate with friends and family or work together to create a group costume.
Over the years, many elementary schools, pre-schools and sports teams have coordinated their own group costumes. The results? Schools of salmon and umbrella jelly fish, flocks of birds and packs of dogs and wolves are just a few of the ways locals have coordinated. My favorites are the multi-person costumes. In past years I’ve been fascinated by the 8-person spiders with 20-foot-long legs, a 12-foot-tall owl and the bicycle-powered raven with 12-foot flapping wings.
You can gather with friends and have a costume-making party or attend the costume workshops that are free and open to the public.
Not sure what to be? Never fear. If your search engine isn’t helping, the Bellingham Procession website offers a few resources to get your started. There you’ll find Whatcom County nonprofits that repurpose and recycle materials that can be transformed into your favorite flying animal. Plus you can get more information on how to make really big puppets with the Puppeteers Cooperative.
If you’re still searching for ideas, I’d also recommend browsing photos on the Facebook Page for some inspiration. You’ll find a supportive community there where you can post questions, ideas and photos.
Pressed for time? No problem. Many years we only wore masks, carried puppets, or carried banners with animals painted on them. A pair of rabbit ears, a fallen tree branch or an unusual tail is all you need to blend in with this relaxed, welcoming crowd. The hardest part for me has always been committing to just one costume!
Make Some Noise
Percussion instruments are also a big part of the fun. The festive Brazilian carnival-style drum group, Batucada NW will lead the parade of flora and fauna. You can join them by bringing your own percussion instruments. Both professional and home made instruments are welcomed. When my kids were young we made home made noise makers. Cardboard tubes, paper, rubber bands and split peas are a quick home activity to put you in the mood. The parade ends with more music and dancing in Maritime Heritage Park courtesy of Kuungana, who share their traditional and contemporary African songs on marimba, mbira, drums and voices.
Of course, the Procession is always looking for volunteers. Help spread the word about the Procession by handing out flyers at the Bellingham Farmer’s Market or get in touch to discuss other opportunities.
Be sure to put this don’t miss event in your calendar now and start exploring your costume options. You’re guaranteed some fun, music and dance, community connection, and the incredible creativity of Bellingham’s Procession of the Species parade. Don’t miss out on other Whatcom County parades either. Check out Hilary Parker’s Insider blog for all the details.