Bonnet Brigade

The Easter Bonnet Stroll is an all-frills event, and everyone is welcome. Even turkeys, pigs, and goats. Dogs, cats, and parrots too. Dress them up in Easter finery and they can stroll right along with you -- similarly decked out, of course -- along Delray Beach's Old School Square to the rollicking strains of a Dixieland Band. This is Easter Sunday, South Florida-style.

Now in its seventh year, the Easter Bonnet Stroll is the brainchild of Delray Beach community activist Carolyn Zimmerman, who admits that she never expected it to last beyond 1995, when, as the city's centennial chairperson, she created it as one of a series of old-fashioned events. The next year, people demanded, even begged, that she turn it into an annual event.

As many as 200 participants stroll past the judges' stand, where costumes are scrutinized against three criteria: originality, spirit, and style. Says judge Jeff Perlman, one of Delray Beach's city commissioners, "I've found it incredibly easy to find lots of people and animals with all three. People take this event very seriously."

And while parading around in Easter duds with your similarly garbed parrot seems difficult to take seriously, there must be a fairly intense competitive spirit. That would explain why Zimmerman has come up with so many categories for winning prizes, most of which are gift certificates to local businesses. Best bonnet, best couple, best costume, best family, best child, the oldest person in the stroll, and the best pet all come with a prize attached, with the certificate for the latter event being for the local pet store; after all, you shouldn't get to cash in just because Fido came up with a good costume. Don't be greedy.

The Easter bunny will be there too, passing out flowers to the ladies and candy to the children. And in keeping with the old-timey feeling, refreshments include lemonade and cookies. For first-time competitors, Perlman suggests, "Let your imagination run wild, and start working on your outfit now."

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Dale Koppel