Rose Bowl

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Rose Bowl (Tournament of Roses)

Type of Holiday: Sporting
Date of Observation: January 1
Where Celebrated: Pasadena, California
Symbols and Customs: Football Game, Parade, Rose Queen


The first Tournament of Roses took place in 1890. Members of Pasadena's hunt club cooked up the idea as a way of promoting their town's mild climate and fertile land. Club members modeled the Tournament of Roses on the Battle of the Flowers, which takes place in Nice, France. The tournament consisted of a PARADE of flower-decked carriages, foot races, polo matches, and tug-of-war contests. The event pleased the townsfolk and so became an annual event. The first participants in the Tournament of Roses would hardly recognize the celebration that takes place today. Although the parade remains, an annual college FOOTBALL GAME has come to dominate the day's events, which are broadcast on television to over sixty million viewers in the U.S. and abroad.

In 1895 the Hunt Club turned over the organization and management of the Tournament of Roses to a new, non-profit group called the Tournament of Roses Association. The Association added new features to the yearly event, including ostrich races and bronco busting. In 1902 they added a football match to the festival. Tournament organizers envisioned an east-versus-west contest, and so pitted Stanford University's team against the team from the University of Michigan. Michigan squashed Stanford 49 to 0 in this first ever post-season college football game. In fact, Stanford was so far behind in the third quarter that they simply admitted defeat and called off the rest of the game, much to the disappointment of the fans. This unimpressive ending led tournament organizers to replace football with Roman chariot races until 1916, when football games returned and claimed a permanent place at the center of the day's festivities.

As time went on, the football game became the central and most important event in the Tournament of Roses. In fact, today the Tournament of Roses is often referred to as the Rose Bowl, a title that refers specifically to the football game. The game takes its name from Rose Bowl stadium, built in the early 1920s specifically for the game. Rose Bowl Stadium was named after the Yale Bowl, a bowl-shaped structure many deem to be the first modern football stadium. In 1952, when NBC broadcast the game, the Rose Bowl became the first college football game to be nationally televised.

The flower-covered carriages that graced the first years of the Tournament of Roses have long since been replaced with motorized parade floats. The parade, which precedes the football game, is also covered on television. Each year a different celebrity Grand Marshall presides over the parade, along with the R OSE Q UEEN , a young beauty queen from the Pasadena area.

The Tournament of Roses Association continues to organize both the parade and the football game. Although the Association hires a few paid employees, it relies heavily on the efforts of more than 900 volunteers who give about 80,000 hours of labor each year to help pull off this massive undertaking. The Rose Bowl is usually played on January 1, but festival organizers try not to schedule the game on a Sunday, and so it is put off in some years until January 2.


Football Game

The Rose Bowl Game has been nicknamed "the granddaddy of them all" because it was the first national, post-season collegiate football game. Each year it pits the winner of the Big Ten conference against the winner of the Pacific Ten conference. The proceeds from the game benefit each school in the Pacific Ten and Big Ten, whether their team is playing in the Rose Bowl that year or not. In 2005, the Rose Bowl payout totaled about $30 million. Each university in the two conferences received over one million dollars in revenue. These football games have sold out each year since 1947. In addition, it is estimated that about 68.5 million Americans watch the game on TV.


The Rose Parade is about five-and-a-half miles long and lasts about two-and-ahalf hours. About one million people line the parade route every year. The Tournament of Roses Parade features beautiful floats that, according to parade rules, Rose Bowl

must be entirely covered in some combination of flowers, petals, leaves, seeds, bark, and twigs. Associations, corporations, or cities sponsor most of the floats entered in the Rose Parade. Most are professionally designed and built, and some even include computerized animation as well as computerized hydraulic systems. Each year tournament organizers select a theme for the parade, and floats must represent an aspect of that theme.

In addition, the parade also features beautifully costumed equestrians. About 300 horses and their riders take part. Many different breeds of horses are represented. Marching bands have been a feature of the parade since 1891, when the Monrovia Town Band became the first to march in a Tournament of Roses parade. These days sixteen musical groups are selected to participate in the parade every year. Over fifty bands compete for these positions.

Each year the president of the Tournament of Roses Association chooses a celebrity Grand Marshall to preside over the parade. Politicians, actors, actresses, athletes, generals, musicians, writers, astronauts, lawyers, and doctors have been selected in past years.

Rose Queen

In 1930 tournament organizers added a beauty contest to the day's festivities. The winner of the contest, dubbed the Rose Queen, presides over the day's celebrations. Current contest rules state that only single, childless women who are full-time students, who are between the ages of seventeen and twenty-one, and who live in the Pasadena area are eligible to serve as the Rose Queen. Approximately 1,000 young women compete for this honor every year. Contestants are judged on personality, poise, public speaking ability, and academic achievement. Six princesses are also chosen. Together they represent the queen and her court. All seven young women will ride on a special float in the parade. The Rose Queen and the Rose Princesses are expected to attend about 150 media and public events throughout the year, where, as goodwill ambassadors, they will promote the Rose Bowl and the city of Pasadena.


Gulevich, Tanya. Encyclopedia of Christmas and New Year's Celebrations. 2nd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2003. Michelson, Herb, and David Newhouse. Rose Bowl Football since 1902. New York: Stein and Day, 1977.


Tournament of Roses Association
Holiday Symbols and Customs, 4th ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2009
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