NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — The Big Apple went red, white and green Monday for the 68th Annual Columbus Day Parade in Manhattan.

More than 35,000 marchers took part in the parade, which featured the giant head of Christopher Columbus mounted on a float. Onlookers waved Italian flags while police officers wore Italian-American sashes over their uniforms and music blasted from bagpipers and marching bands.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other officials also joined the event.

It is estimated 1 million people lined Fifth Avenue to watch the three-and-a-half hour parade.

“We are from Australia, born in Italy. Beautiful day, happy Columbus Day,” one parade-goer told CBS 2’s Emily Smith.

1010 WINS’ Juliet Papa reports

parade Big Crowds Turn Out For 68th Annual Columbus Day Parade Along Fifth Avenue

Columbus Day Parade Oct. 8, 2012 (credit: Jim Smith/WCBS 880)

Speaking to reporters before the parade, Bloomberg advised New Yorkers to go see the conceptual art installation that surrounds a 13-foot statue of the explorer at Columbus Circle with a living room. The exhibit, “Discovering Columbus,” by Japanese artist Tatzu Nishi, has become a must-see cultural attraction in the city since it opened Sept. 20.

“It’s the only time in your life you’ll be able to get close to it,” said the mayor, who marched in the parade along with Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

EXTRA: New York City Columbus Day Events And Parade Guide

Bronx native Mario J. Gabelli, the founder, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of GAMCO Investors, Inc., served as Grand Marshal of the parade, which runs along Fifth Avenue from 44th Street north to 72nd Street.

The Columbus Citizens Foundation said the parade is the largest celebration of Italian-American culture in the world.

“It’s one day of the year that we can be proud to be Italians,” one parade-goer said.

PHOTOS: New York City Columbus Day Parade 2011

“There’s such a patriotic feeling being American and Italian. It’s wonderful,” a parade-goer from Flushing told WCBS 880’s Jim Smith.

“I love it, it’s great, it’s wonderful to be out here for the Italian-Americans and the people from Italy,” a woman told Smith.

WCBS 880’s Jim Smith reports from Fifth Avenue

One parade-goer tried to describe why she is proud of her Italian heritage but couldn’t pick just one aspect.

“Food, family, religion, culture, it’s all wonderful,” she told Smith.

“It’s one day of the year we can be proud to be Italians. I never miss the parade!” a spectator told Smith.

The parade stepped off at 11:30 a.m., making its way up Fifth Avenue from 44th Street to 72nd Street, where it wrapped up at 3 p.m.

(TM and © Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS Radio and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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