Next Saturday, along with thousands of fellow Tampanians (and foreigners alike), I will be celebrating the Gasparilla Parade in the Sunshine state. Thus, for Cultural Tidbits Monday this week, I wanted to give you a background — and foreground? — of this hugely-popular parade in the bay city of Tampa, Florida.
Just like almost every other “meaningful” celebration of a “local hero,” Gasparilla has unfortunately gotten the bad rep of being a drinking fest (aka sh*tshow) — and for a reason. With girls flashing their upper assets and beads thrown everywhere, plus several shots and beers drunk in-between, the Gasparilla Parade can be easily dubbed Tampa Bay’s Mardi Gras. Minus the pirates, of course.
The real name of this multi-day event is the Gasparilla Pirate Festival. Therefore, not only it includes the wildly-popular “adult” events (aka drink fests), but also a kids parade the preceding weekend, including a great fireworks display called “Piratechnic Extravaganza.”
We must be honest here, though: While the kids parade and fireworks event have good attendance, the main events of the Gasparilla Festival are the two adult-oriented parades. First off is the day parade, also called “The Invasion,” which happens at the end of January every year.
The Invasion and Capt. Gaspar
“The Invasion” honors the legend of José Gaspar (aka Gasparilla), a Spanish pirate captain who apparently invaded the Bay area (Florida’s west coast) between the late 18th – early 19th century. No evidence of such “attack” or even the capt. himself appears in writing until late 20th century though, which makes his existence dubious.
Regardless, Capt. Gaspar is honored during the Gasparilla Fest by starting the day parade with a reenactment of his “invasion,” landing a 165′-feet-long pirate ship nearby Downtown Tampa. Then, the current mayor of the city hands a key to the pirate, kicking off the parade of floats and bead-throwing down Tampa’s infamous Bayshore Blvd.
About a week after “The Invasion,” the Sant’Yago Knight Parade takes place in Channelside and Ybor City districts. While such event is supposed to be a parade of illuminated floats, it has been severely overshadowed by hard partying. In a nutshell: If you thought the day parade was utter debauchery, you will really want to avoid Ybor’s night clubs this weekend. Conversely, if you are all about a messy drinking fest, this is an event not to miss when visiting Tampa this time of the year.
So, are you ready to party? Gasparilla’s “Invasion” day parade takes place next weekend, 28th. While the event starts around 10 AM, heavily drinking & pre-gaming usually start around 5-6 AM at a house party near you (still, to this day, I do not know why…)