30 JUNE 10, 2021 RIDGEWOOD TIMES WWW.QNS.COM
OUR NEIGHBORHOOD: THE WAY IT WAS
For decades, the celebration of the First Sunday School in Brooklyn was accompanied by parades complete with homemade fl oats and displays
celebrating religious themes. While the holiday is still observed — it is Thursday June 10 in 2021 — the meaning behind it has been erased.
Anniversary Day’s history in Woodhaven
PRESENTED BY THE WOODHAVEN CULTURAL AND
For many years, Anniversary Day was a huge
event for those who came of age in neighborhoods
in Brooklyn and Queens.
It was celebrated on the first Thursday in June,
unless that fell on the same week as Memorial
Day, in which case it was bumped back to the
second Thursday. There were parades, floats and
marching bands, and, probably because it was
also a day off from school for the kids, it holds
fond memories for people of a certain age.
These days, Anniversary Day is observed by
schools in all five boroughs (Brooklyn-Queens
Day) but it bears little or no resemblance to
the holiday loved and celebrated all those
years ago. The active celebration of Anniversary
Day stretched into the mid-1980s when it
finally ended. These days, the kids get the day
off and teachers still have to work. No parades,
So, what was the celebration all about? The
very first Sunday School in New York City was
founded in 1816 by the Brooklyn Sunday School
Union in order to “provide gratuitous religious
instruction to children on the Sabbath Day.”
Thirteen years later, in 1829, the first Anniversary
Day parade was held to commemorate that
founding as well as to help increase the popularity
of Sunday Schools. As the city’s population
increased eastward, other unions were formed
and the first union in Queens, the Woodhaven
Sunday School Union, was founded in 1889.
As a result of this expansion, there was no
longer just one parade, but dozens of different
parades made up of hundreds of churches and
tens of thousands of marchers along routes that
traversed each neighborhood.
“The parade and the spirit that inspires it constitute
one of the genuinely worthwhile things
in the city.”
That’s how Governor Herbert Lehman described
it in 1937. Although it was a Protestant
holiday, churches included Scout troops and
other organizations that met in their buildings,
so there were people of many different faiths
coming together to celebrate.
In Woodhaven, the observance was so big and
popular that there were actually two separate
parades held at the same time, marching along
different routes, including a varying number of
churches, at times from as far away as Cypress
Hills and Far Rockaway.
The “East End” parade included Emanuel
United Church of Christ, the Community Church
of Woodhaven, St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church,
Christ Congregational Church and Woodhaven
First Presbyterian, along with the First Methodist
Church and United Brethren Churches, both
of Ozone Park.
Those in the “West End” parade included
Woodhaven’s Methodist Church, Christ Evangelical
Lutheran Church, Woodhaven Baptist
Church, Forest Park Reformed Church and St.
Luke’s Evangelical Lutheran Church.
The parades started in their respective ends of
the neighborhood, but both traveled along 91st
Avenue and passed a single reviewing stand
populated by local luminaries: state Assembly
members and senators, City Council members,
and civic and local business leaders.
Each year’s parade had a theme such as “Love
One Another,” “Try Christ’s Way” or “Christian
Unity—World Fellowship.” One year, in the late
1930s, the theme was simply “Peace,” a wish that
would be shattered in just a few years.
For residents of Woodhaven,
Anniversary Day was a gigantic and memorable
event. Scouting groups carried flags and churches
carried banners identifying themselves and
the different groups represented. Bands were
hired, hymns were sung. During World War II
(save for 1943 when the parade was suspended),
churches proudly carried service flags with the
names of their boys in service.
Floats were decorated to match each year’s parade
theme; smaller kids rode on the floats which
were pulled by volunteers from the older groups
or the Boy Scouts. Mothers pushed their young
infants in baby carriages or strollers which were
also decorated in colorful paper.
In 1959, the state Legislature made it a legal
holiday for all schools in Brooklyn and Queens,
and it also became well known as Brooklyn-
Over the next few decades participation in the
parades began to dwindle and 1985 saw the very
last Anniversary Day parade in Woodhaven, just
four years shy of what would have been its 100th
Today’s students might just see it as another
welcome day off (the Department of Education
is observing it in Brooklyn and Queens on
Thursday, June 10, in 2021), but those who grew
up around Anniversary Day remember it fondly
and lament the passing of another tradition, yet
another in a long line of losses that leaves our
piece of the world just a little less special.
* * *
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of “Our Neighborhood: The Way It Was” that you
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Blvd., Bayside, NY 11361, or send an email to editorial@
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