Turkey and Macy’s Parade
What do you do when you’ve noticed that almost none of the local shops in New York are open for business on Thanksgivings? I guess this was one of those things that I failed to consider, given the fact that it’s been several years since my last full-fledge turkey dinner. That’s one of the sins expats have to risk, I guess.
So back to my story: I found myself with an empty schedule on Thanksgiving Day and didn’t know what to do with it (Though there was a dinner planned with some long-lost relative in the big apple – ones I didn’t even know existed).
Now, as fate would have it (or should I say tourist’s luck?), I got lucky with coming across the balloon-pumping event next to the National Museum of Natural History. Even though I arrived too late for the museum, I had the fortune of mingling with a battalion of stressed-out parents and screaming kids as they milled their way through the roadside spectacle of inflating oversized balloons. This was where I got my hands on the information that the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade was tomorrow (though I can live without that underlying comment of “dude, you from Mars? Everybody knows that!”).
So after a sleepless night, I woke up at about 5 in the morning and made it to the plaza in an hour. I disembarked at the Columbus Circle just in case the rows along west side of Central Park are packed. Yeah, I was right – who dares to underestimate the power of family love? The streets were steaming with kids, dads, moms, and even grandparents here and there.
In this case, I decided to make a strategic retreat and head down to Times Square. Along the way, the front rows on the sidewalks were already taken, so I had to find myself a second row stand somewhere next to Carnegie Hall. Fortunately, I met a family of upstate New Yorkers who drove four hours south to see the parade. It was a big family, and they have enough people in the front row so I could take up some room next to them.
As this was my first experience with the Macy’s Parade, I didn’t really know what to expect. However, I must say that true to the American tradition, the people (locals) were more or less friendly to visitors. It was also surprising to see that people were willing to give up room to let the kids from other parties come up to the front row and take a closer look. In fact, I think the front rows were full of kids by the time the parade started – something quite unique, if you ask me. I’ve been to parades in Japan and Taiwan, but this was the only time I saw people proactively giving up nice viewing room to fulfill the dreams of future generations. I think this is a very non-New York’ish tradition, but it’s still very refreshing to see nonetheless.
Now, let’s get back to the parade itself. The Macy’s Parade began in the 1920’s as an amateur event consisting of Macy’s employees. One of the big attractions of the events are the balloons, which can be quite huge and require a number of people to operate the finer movements of these oversized mascots. Today, the parade is a national event, broadcasted on TV across the US. Of course, being such a major event, the organizers invited a number of marching band and celebrities from around the country to add flavor to the decade-old tradition.
However, history is more or less “living” in the parade, as you can see characters ranging from all-time favorite Mickey Mouse, Smurf, to turn-of-the-21st-Century-wonder Pokémon, and even today’s Kungfu Panda. There are also balloons with designs that you know came from the early 20th century, such as the Fireman and the colorful caterpillar.
I also heard that volunteers sign up for training sessions to participate in the parade as clowns and extras. I think this was another interesting thing about the parade – there are so many extras you know are your regular Joe, but they’re doing their best to entertain themselves and spectators. I think many of them actually have a great time playing with the kids on the sideline, sprinkling colored paper over their heads during the unexpected raids.
Another interesting aspect of the parade is the gathering of marching bands from schools all across the US. It’s interesting to see how each differs in terms of their costumes, cheerleaders, and flags. Of course, as befitting the parade, all of them have drums carrying the “Macy’s Parade” logo.
As a part of the tradition, there’s always the renowned Turkey near the beginning of the event – an important symbol of Thanksgivings. Guess who’s the special guest at the end of the parade? You’re right! It’s the symbol of the next big holiday event – Santa Claus!!!
So all in all, the spectacle was quite entertaining. In my honest opinion, while the balloons look grand, it’s nothing comparable to the craftsmanship involved in the huge parade chariots from the Gyon Matsuri of Kyoto. However, the festive spirit and the “American” essence – the grandiose, holiday spirit, kindles, and humanness – is fairly evident throughout this event.
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