I’ve always loved reading stories and watching media that depicts children waking up early Christmas morning and running to open presents. The joy and innocence of awakening with such excitement is precious and fleeting. Growing up in a Jewish household, I never experienced the mad dash to the tree each holiday season. But every year, about one month earlier, I had something similar: the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
My family loves Thanksgiving. Each year, over forty extended family members from all over the country come to my parents' house in our “native land” of Cleveland. Thanksgiving day is filled with cooking as my immediate family prepares to host, but technically, the parade comes before the real work starts. I’ve been entertained by the mix of giant floats, muppets, Al Roker, Rockettes, musical performances by pop artists, Broadway shows—my favorite!—marching bands, and of course, the appearance of Santa Claus welcoming in the holiday season.
But this year, Thanksgiving has been cancelled. My extended family will stay far away in states like Virginia, California, and Texas. We’ll have to work hard to find the little things in life to be grateful for, as the general happenings of the world are not exactly great.
Mirroring the holiday that is its inspiration, the Macy’s Parade won’t resemble its normal happenings. This year, the massive crowds will be gone, more portions than usual will be pre–taped, and the colorfully costumed workers that usually man the balloons will be replaced by cars. The parade is a tradition stretching back to 1924, when Macy’s employees marched to the flagship store on, ironically, 34th Street—the New York one. It grew from there into the massive spectacle it is today, with the creation of iconic balloons and floats. In 1990, it even featured a performance by the Penn Glee Club (my father, C’92, is one of the tall ones in the back).
These days, it’s an affair that borders on chaotic, with 3.5 million spectators and 8,000 parade volunteers. The travel required and condensed crowds make the usual event impossible to hold in the midst of a pandemic.
The last time the parade was interrupted to any major extent was during World War II, when it was cancelled, and rubber scrap cut from the balloons was used for the war effort. Unlike then, the parade will continue in some capacity—there may not be a multitude of visitors or volunteers, but the iconic balloons and floats will be present. There will still be musical performances from many famous artists. But I think most exciting of all is the fact that, for just a few hours, they will bring back Broadway.
Right now, New York’s theatres are closed, at least through May of 2021. The four pre–recorded musical performances won’t match the thrill of live theatre, and certainly won’t make up for over a year without Broadway or the damage its absence caused for many young actors’ careers, but I’m excited to get a glimpse back into the magical world of musicals. I’m especially looking forward to the performance from the cast of Hamilton. Although it’s been criticized recently as a figurehead for the naivete of the Obama years, and for its poor representation of slavery, I still relish the optimism it presents for what America can be. Especially following the election results, I am excited to love America again.
Ultimately, the parade won’t be what it normally is. It won’t have the same excited energy as crowds of people mill about and groups from around the country show off their talents. But that doesn’t change how excited I am to once again feel the nostalgia of turning on the television to see those iconic Today Show anchors beaming back at me. Even though there won’t be cousins in town, I’ll happily drag my sisters downstairs to watch with me. And I know that I’ll feel just like a kid again as I welcome in the joy of the parade, which in such a tumultuous year, is certainly something to be thankful for.