Posts Tagged ‘macy’s thanksgiving day parade’

The morning of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade here in New York City is always the coldest morning of the year. (I have not consulted the farmer’s almanac to confirm this fact but trust me, I’ve been there, and I’ve never been colder.)

From around the time I was five or six years old, until I was about 12, my mom woke us up each Thanksgiving morning while it was still dark. She filled a backpack with bananas and clementines, a few books, and a Thermos of hot chocolate. And with that, my mother, younger brother and I hopped on a subway from Queens into midtown Manhattan to see the Parade.

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade doesn’t begin until 9 am, leaving from Manhattan’s Upper West Side (just west of Central Park, the same area where they blow up the balloons the night before) and marching south until eventually winding up outside the Macy’s storefront at Herald Square. (That’s the part you see on TV.)


My brother Danny and me at the parade. (Photo credit: Mom.)

Of course if you want to see the parade in person, you can’t just show up at 9 am. Our plan each year was to arrive in the city as early as possible, find a spot in the street along the parade route where we could lay out a blanket and my brother and I could sit and have an unblocked view of the floats and balloons; Mom usually ended up somewhere behind us. Standing 5’4” she had a better view of us than she did the parade, which was fine for her.

For a breakdown of our first year attending, I’ll let Mom tell it in her own words:

The first year that we went, I had not done any research. I knew the parade route, what time it started, and I suspected that it would way too crowded at the viewing stand near Macy’s. So we arrived somewhere on Broadway when the parade was well underway and the crowd was 8 to 10 [people] deep.

We walked for blocks behind the crowd with me looking for places where you could squeeze your way through the crowd up to the front. Once I realized that there was not going to be an opportunity for you to move closer to the parade, our next best option was to go up.

On a street corner, there was a tall block of concrete with a flat surface at the top, perfect for viewing a parade if only one could hoist oneself to the top. There was already a person on the top, and not much more room for another. I started to lift you up there, but it was higher than I could lift you. The person at the top, a young man, reached down to you and pulled you up. For the rest of the parade, I stood at the bottom of the concrete block, looking up to make sure you were safe and not about to fall off.

My mom would do her best to entertain us for the hours between our arrival and something actually happening parade-wise. We had our books, maybe a couple of games, and an unending conversation about how freakin’ cold it was. We couldn’t put on enough layers to stay warm on those late November mornings. We found respite in the hot chocolate, though it was a double-edged sword in that the more we drank, the more we’d be tempted to give up our spot to find a bathroom somewhere on Broadway.

Once the parade actually got going it was—as things seen through the eyes of children can sometimes be—magical. Our eyes lit up at the first glimpse of the new balloons featuring our favorite characters (think Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). But we also liked the recognizable old school characters who kept coming back, like Snoopy and Woody the Woodpecker. (Incidentally, as a child I always had trouble wrapping my head around the word “float.” If the balloons are actually floating in the air, why are we calling the displays on wheels “floats”?)

The kids all around us were as excited as we were, maybe more so—after all, we were parade veterans by Year Two. One year, I remember parade marchers running alongside the floats throwing confetti up in the air towards us kids in the front row. The younger kids went especially bananas for this, and each time someone who looked like they might have confetti approached, they (okay fine, we) chanted, “CON-FET-TI, CON-FET-TI, CON-FET-TI.” A little boy a few years younger than my brother was sitting next to us, and got so caught up in the chanting despite not knowing the word “confetti” that he chanted, “BET-TY, BET-TY, BET-TY,” just to be a part of the excitement around him.

(While sitting in the front row for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade might not hold the same cache as, say, sitting in the front row at a Yankee game, it still felt pretty special. Unlike most high-priced event tickets, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was first come first serve, and it only cost you a couple of hours of sleep that morning.)

The most memorable celebrity sighting from our years of attending the parade was when we spotted “Michael Jordan” on one of the floats. MJ is in quotes because we were never really sure it was him—in-person parade attendees don’t have the benefit of the inane but occasionally informative TV commentators telling them who’s on which float. My mom snapped a few photos of him, but we’ve never been able to authenticate with 100 percent certainty that the blurry image of a tall, bald black man was in fact my childhood sports idol. Years later we still pored over that photo like it was the missing clue in Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. (Mom says: It was him!)

Another year, we were sitting in a spot across from the Winter Garden Theater, where Cats used to play. Mid-parade, we watched as three actors dressed as cats frolicked across the parade route, from the side where we were sitting and into the Winter Garden. Was this a planned act, maybe even mandated, by the theater as a form or free advertising? (Probably. These days ad executives call this “native advertising.”) Or did the actors decide impulsively that they wanted to be a part of every show in the vicinity of the theater, not just their own? (Less likely, but I’m not ruling it out. Also, they may just have been trying to get a cup of coffee across the street.)

The Parade always closes with Santa Claus and his elves, an unapologetic reminder that Christmas is a month away (and, I suppose, to get your Christmas shopping done at Macy’s). The kids are happy to see Santa coming to town, but sad that he’s the last float they’ll see until next year. (Mom says: We—or maybe just I—always thought that it was so funny that when we arrived home, the tail end of the parade was still on TV and we could say, “We were just there!”)

Despite the early, early morning wake-up and the almost unbearable cold—or perhaps because of it—there was something noble about attending the Thanksgiving Parade each year as our own three-person unit. I’m sure Mom tried to rope in family or friends to join us, but most people would be crazy to accept. Still, when we returned home and joined the rest of the family for Thanksgiving dinner later that day, everyone seemed glad that we had gone. It was as if we were representing everyone we knew who liked the idea of going to the parade, just not the going part. (Mom says: This is definitely true. I remember when we stopped going, Aunt Mary seemed disappointed.)

Last year my wife, her parents and I went to the Parade. It was cold. Really cold. Mom decided to skip it and meet us after. Time served, I suppose.

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