WHAT'S THE FIRST thing you do on New Year's Day?

Tune in the national ritual on TV - the Rose Parade from Pasadena. Except this year, since New Year's Day falls on a Sunday, the parade will be held on Jan. 2. Most people, who sit transfixed as colorfully dressed people and floats covered in the splendor of roses pass by, will wish they were in California to see it.The fact that it became a national ritual is a major success story in self-promotion.

In the early 19th century there was little in essentially rural Southern California to suggest it would become such a huge metropolitan region.

Except maybe the climate.

That and every promotional gimmick known to the increasing number of businessmen who flocked to the West Coast.

Between 1875 and 1900, the population of Los Angeles grew enormously - from 11,000 to more than 100,000.

A sarcastic San Francisco newspaper editor said: "Our brethren of the city and would-be state of the Angels know how to advertise. The average Eastern mind conceives of California as a small tract of country situated in and about Los Angeles. . . . The result shows the pecuniary value of cheek."

It was natural to similarly push the Tournament of Roses.

One day in 1889, Dr. Charles Frederick Holder stood before Pasadena's prestigious Valley Hunt Club - consisting mainly of transplanted Midwesterners who had successfully invested in California orange groves, ostrich farms and other such Southern California enterprises.

Holder said, "Gentlemen, I came here from the East to this beautiful area for my health. I found it here. I also discovered happiness and beauty. In New York, people are buried in the snow. Here, our flowers are blooming and our oranges are about to bear. Let's have a festival and tell the world about our paradise."

They did.

On Jan. 1, 1890, the Valley Hunt Club sponsored the first Tournament of Roses, featuring a parade of rose-lined carriages, buckboards and buggies.

There were also a community picnic and games - foot races, a tug of war, jousting and even a minor scuffle among local football players.

Three thousand people attended.

The idea continued to gain popularity. By 1895, the festival had grown enough that the Tournament of Roses Association was formed to run it.

By 1898, it was so large it attracted reporters from across the country to see roses unaccountably bloom in the winter.

It boggled the Eastern mind.

In 1901, automobiles were first allowed to participate - although at the rear so as not to disturb the horses.

In 1902, the first intersectional college football game was played in Tournament Park (University of Michigan 49, Stanford University zip).

In 1905, the first rose queen was crowned - and in 1922, the Rose Bowl was constructed to house the annual game.

In 1927, the first national radio coverage began - and in 1951, the first national TV coverage.

Today, it is still watched by millions at home on expansive color screens, while hordes of visitors try in person for a spot on the parade route to enjoy the beauty and unmistakable scent of the roses.

Over the years it has been transformed into a giant media happening, where there are infinitely more dollars than roses.

In the parade's 106th year, here we are again - stuck in Salt Lake City - mired in deeper snow than ever - longing for the land of roses. Thankfully, we can vicariously appreciate the 56 floats, 23 marching bands and 29 equestrian units in the warmth of our living rooms.