Dancers swing their dresses as they walk past the Torch of Friendship.
Dancers pass the Torch of Friendship during the Fiesta Flambeau Parade. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

After nearly 14 years in San Antonio, I still had never been to the Fiesta Flambeau parade. Saturday was the night.

I live in walking distance to the parade route, so I followed the cascarones trail from my apartment toward the drum beats and the wafts of funnel cake and roasted corn.

I still had confetti stuck in my hair from taking part in the morning’s King William parade with my Rivard Report team. This was our second year participating, and though I focused more on not falling off the skateboard I rode on the parade route, I noticed the same thing as last year: people waving from the crowd seem genuinely to be having a blast.

The same proved true for the Flambeau parade, where several hundred runners dressed as Spartans, cascarones, and local landmarks kicked off the signature night parade – some with beer cups and turkey legs in hand, all smiling.

Marching bands, cheerleaders, veterans, and military members from around the world carrying their national flags walked and waved, smiled and cheered.

One parade goer contentedly sat and watched the parade. Michael Kennick, an engineer, said he’s marched in the parade at least five times and run the race three times.

“I’ve been in San Antonio for 21 years, but this is my first time watching the parade as a spectator,” Kennick said. “It’s kinda nice to be sitting down.”

(From left) Erika Prosper, Mayor Ron Nirenberg, and their son Jonah ride on a float down Alamo Street.
(From left) Erika Prosper, Mayor Ron Nirenberg, and their son Jonah ride on a float down Alamo Street. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

San Antonio Police Chief William McManus, Fire Chief Charles Hood, and Mayor Ron Nirenberg and his family – on foot, on a fire truck, and in a horse-drawn carriage, respectively – garnered cheers as they rolled down Broadway toward Alamo Plaza.

I perched myself up on the wheel of a trailer hosting a private party to get a better view of the action. The family throwing the pachanga promptly offered me a seat among them.

“What’s your favorite part about Fiesta?” I asked 12-year-old Arianna.

“The foooooood!” she replied as she munched on mangoes covered in chamoy.

Michaela, also 12, said she loved the cheerleaders and the lights. “They’re sooo pretty,” she said.

As the sun set over the parade route, the lights began to multiply on Fiesta medals, band members’ uniforms, and, finally, the floats. Several replicas of Hemisfair and the Tower of the Americas, a Navy ship, the Alamo, a UTSA Roadrunner, and a giant toilet – yes, you read correctly – all dripped in lights as they moved past the reveling crowd.

Adding to the hundreds of thousands of lights in the parade: thousands more cell phone lights, stemming from people capturing exciting moments of the illuminated parade touted as “America’s largest.” And then there was the moon, one day short of being full, contributing its natural glow to Fiesta’s big finale.

Fiesta may not be everyone’s cup of beer, but the people who do come out to “party with a purpose” are indisputably into it. People camped out for good seats for days. There were cowbells and lots of hugs. One little girl was enjoying the music so unabashedly, she danced right into my shins. Her little brother, on the other hand, had had enough of the party and was passed out in a little trailer. I imagine some adults feel the same.

One thing is certain: San Antonio will Fiesta again next year – and have a blast.

Before moving to San Antonio in 2004, Hanna was a competitive rhythmic gymnast in her native Austria. She earned degrees from St. Mary’s University and the Texas State Graduate College before joining...

Bonnie Arbittier worked as a photojournalist for the San Antonio Report.