NEW YORK — New York City's annual Easter Parade drew both the faithful and the fun-loving Sunday.
Thousands of people filled a traffic-free Fifth Avenue, many decked out creatively for the freewheeling gathering, a secular way to mark the holiest day on the Christian calendar.
"This was his Halloween costume, but don't tell him that!" a smiling Karen Stillpass said of the bumblebee coat on her dog, a Westie named Seymour. "He doesn't know his mommy was too cheap to buy him an Easter costume."
There were dozens of dogs wearing fluffy bunny ears, as were many people, including Stillpass, 62, her pink bunny ears bobbing in the balmy spring air.
The parade started in the 1870s as a spontaneous showcase for the finery that prosperous New Yorkers wore to church. It's now a showcase of outlandish attire, with a few traditional bonnets.
On Sunday, 17-year-old Zach Karle donned a Roman centurion helmet with a red horsehair plume, purchased years ago in England.
"I didn't want to do the bunny thing," the teenager said, deadpanning, "How is this not perfect for Easter?"
Some used the parade as a chance to promote their causes.
In the middle of Fifth Avenue, a white cat named Whitney lounged in a lacy bed of lavender velvet on the knees of her owner, Mary Walsh, next to a sign encouraging people to neuter pets so they don't end up in shelters. Walsh adopted 1-year-old Whitney from one.
"We're celebrating my birthday a day early!" said Walsh, who turns 70 on Monday.
The Babylon resident wore her Irish grandmother's white lace wedding dress, with a pale pink tulle chapeau she said she got in her native Ireland.
A block up the avenue, Jason Ruybe sported a white tuxedo with red hearts while making balloons for children, in return for donations to Hearts of Joy, a New York charity that brings entertainment to sick and underprivileged children.
Here and there, parade participants tipped their hats to elegant tradition.
Nathan Steinberg, a retired hardware store owner from Orange, Mass., posed in a classic gray top hat and tux to match the turn-of-the-century style of his wife, Rose Marie Thomas, who sewed her own long satin fuchsia dress and hat.
"We've been coming for 18 years, and I make a different color dress every year," said Thomas. "The late 1800s is my favorite era."
Nearby, Barry Brown and his friends portrayed the signs of the Zodiac.
Brown, 40, of Jersey City, N.J., who works in nonprofit finance, pointed to his over-the-top head sculpture depicting Virgo: a virgin with long black tresses standing over huge plastic hands that circled his hat, each wearing what he called "rings of abstinence."
"This is my church," he said with a grin.