Living in the past: Thanksgiving tradition

We always hear the phrase “Oh, stop living in the past” of which usually is steered towards the fact that someone can not let go of a certain issue or incident. Typically the use of that phrase and the idea of living in the past is associated with a negativity. Many “retro-ist’s” and myself live in the past in a lifestyle sense. My dream has always been to live in a 1950’s house, with an interior stuck in time, and a 50’s or 40’s vintage car leaking oil in the garage. I have a good start on that dream. I live in a house built in 1951, and I have my 1955 Chrysler parked in the garage.

So when I think of why I desire these things and I believe that it is because I was surrounded by family that lived during those times. One of those influential family members was my grand mother on my mom’s side. She started me on some of my favorite traditions.  One of those traditions from my childhood of which is a tradition for many other families throughout the United States, is to watch the Thanksgiving Day Parade.We would eat freshly baked Cinnamon rolls and watch the wonderful parade. If you don’t know much about the parade, here is a little history about the wonderful New York tradition.

Felix the cat in 1927

In the 1920s, many of Macy’s department store employees were first-generation immigrants. Proud of their new American heritage, they wanted to celebrate the United States parade of Thanksgiving with the type of festival their parents had loved in Europe.

In 1920, the isex parade (originally known as the Macy’s Christmas Parade and later the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Christmas Parade was staged by the store. Employees and professional entertainers marched from 145th Street in Harlem to Macy’s flagship store on 34th Street dressed in vibrant costumes.There were floats, professional bands and live animals borrowed from the Central Park Zoo. At the end of that first parade, as has been the case with every parade since, Santa Claus was welcomed into Herald Square. At this first parade, however, the Jolly Old Elf was enthroned on the Macy’s balcony at the 34th Street store entrance, where he was then “crowned” “King of the Kiddies.” With an audience of over a quarter of a million people, the parade was such a success that Macy’s declared it would become an annual event.

Large animal-shaped balloons, produced by the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company in Akron, Ohio, replaced the live animals in 1927 when the Felix the Cat balloon made its debut. Felix was filled with air, but by the next year, helium was used to fill the expanding cast of balloons.

At the finale of the 1928 parade, the balloons were released into the sky where they unexpectedly burst. The following year they were redesigned with safety valves to allow them to float for a few days. Address labels were sewn into them, so that whoever found and mailed back the discarded balloon received a gift from Macy’s.

Through the 1930s, the Parade continued to grow, with crowds of over 1 million lining the parade route in 1933. The first Mickey Mouse balloon entered the parade in 1934. The annual festivities were broadcast on local New York radio from 1932 through 1941, and resumed in 1945 through 1951.

The parade was suspended 1942–1944 during World War II, owing to the need for rubber and helium in the war effort. The parade resumed in 1945 using the route that it followed until 2008. The parade became a permanent part of American culture after being prominently featured in the 1947 film, Miracle on 34th Street, which shows actual footage of the 1946 festivities. The event was first broadcast on network television in 1948 (see below). By this point the event, and Macy’s sponsorship of it, were sufficiently well-known to give rise to the colloquialism “Macy’s Day Parade”.

Since 1984, the balloons have been made by Raven Industries of Sioux Falls, SD.

Macy’s also sponsors the smaller Celebrate the Season Parade in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, held two days after the main event. Other cities in the US also have parades on Thanksgiving, but they are not run by Macy’s. The nation’s oldest Thanksgiving parade (the Gimbels parade, now known as 6abc-IKEA) was first held in Philadelphia in 1920. Other cities include the McDonald’s Thanksgiving Parade of Chicago, Illinois and parades in Plymouth, Massachusetts; Seattle, Washington; Houston, Texas; Detroit, Michigan; and Fountain Hills, Arizona. A parade is also held at the two U.S. Disney theme parks.

New safety measures were incorporated in 2006 to prevent accidents and balloon related injuries. One measure taken was installation of wind measurement devices to alert parade organizers to any unsafe conditions that could cause the balloons to behave erratically. Also, parade officials implemented a measure to keep the balloons closer to the ground during windy conditions. If wind speeds are forecast to be higher than 34 miles per hour, all balloons are removed from the parade.

Balloon Premiers:

2011: Sonic the Hedgehog (2nd Version), Julius (Paul Frank), Tim Burton’s “B”
2010: Greg Heffley, Po from Kung Fu Panda, Virginia O’Hanlon
2009: Pillsbury Doughboy, Sailor Mickey Mouse (4th version), Ronald McDonald (3rd version), Spider-Man (2nd version)
2008: Horton the Elephant, Buzz Lightyear, Smurf
2007: Shrek, Hello Kitty, Abby Cadabby
2006: Pikachu with Poké Ball (2nd version), Energizer Bunny, Flying Ace Snoopy (6th version)
2005: Dora the Explorer, Scooby-Doo, Healthy Mr. Potato Head, JoJo
2004: SpongeBob SquarePants (character), M&M’s, Chicken Little
2003: (Strike up the Band)Barney (2nd version), Super Grover, Garfield (2nd version)
2002: Kermit the Frog (2nd version), Little Bill, Rich Uncle Pennybags, Charlie Brown
2001: Curious George, Big Bird (2nd version), Jimmy Neutron, Pikachu, Cheesasaurus Rex,
2000: Bandleader Mickey Mouse (3rd version), Ronald McDonald (2nd version), Jeeves, Cassie Dragon Tales
1999: Millennium Snoopy (5th version), Honey Nut Cheerios Bee, Blue’s Clues, Petulia Pig
1998: Babe the Pig, Wild Thing, Dexter
1997: Arthur, Rugrats, Bumpé
1996: Rocky and Bullwinkle (2nd version), Peter Rabbit
1995: Dudley the Dragon, SkyDancer, Eben Bear
1994: Barney the Dinosaur, The Cat in the Hat.
1993: Beethoven (dog), Rex, Sonic the Hedgehog (first video game character in parade history), Izzy
1992: Santa Goofy
1991: Babar the Elephant
1990: Clifford the Big Red Dog, Bart Simpson
1989: Bugs Bunny
1988: Big Bird, Pink Panther, Snoopy (4th version) with Woodstock.
1987: Spider-Man, Ronald McDonald, Snuggle Bear, Skating Snoopy (3rd version), Ice Cream Cone Novelty Balloon
1986: Baby Shamu, Humpty Dumpty, Nestlé Quik Bunny
1985: Betty Boop, Ornament Novelty Balloons
1984: Garfield, Raggedy Ann
1983: Yogi Bear
1982: Olive Oyl with Sweetpea (first female character in parade history), Woody Woodpecker,
1980: Superman (3rd version, largest balloon to appear in parade)
1977: Kermit the Frog
1975: Weeble
1972: Smile (Happy Face), Mickey Mouse (2nd version), Astronaut Snoopy (2nd version, a tribute to Apollo 11)
1968: Aviator Snoopy
1966: Smokey Bear, Superman (2nd version)
1965: Underdog
1964: Linus the Lionhearted
1963: Sinclair Oil Dinosaur, Elsie the Cow
1962: Donald Duck
1961: Bullwinkle J. Moose
1960: Happy Dragon
1957: Popeye
1951: Lucky Pup, Mighty Mouse, Flying fish
1949: Toy soldier
1948: Harold the Fireman (4th version)
1947: Artie The Pirate, Gnome, Harold the Police Officer (3rd version)
1946: Harold the Baseball Player (2nd version)
1945: Harold the Clown (1st version)
1940: Eddie Cantor, one of only two balloons based on a living person or people, The Tin Man
1939: Superman
1938: Uncle Sam
1935: The Marx Brothers (after Zeppo Marx’s departure)
1934: Mickey Mouse
1931: Mama, Papa and Baby
1927: Felix the Cat (Pictured Above)

The Parade has always taken place in Manhattan, one of the Five Boroughs that make up New York City. Originally the parade started from 145th Street in Harlem and ended at Herald Square, a 6-mile route.

In the 1930s, the balloons were inflated in the area of 110th Street and Amsterdam Avenue near St. John the Divine Cathedral. The parade proceeded South on Amsterdam Ave. to 106th Street and turned east. At Columbus Ave. the balloons had to be lowered to go under the 9th Avenue Elevated Subway tracks. Past the tracks, the parade proceeded through 106th street to Central Park West and turned South to terminate at Macy’s Department Store.

A new route was established for the 2009 parade. From 77th Street and Central Park West, the route goes south along Central Park to Columbus Circle, then goes east along Central Park South. The parade then makes a right turn at 7th Avenue and goes south to Times Square. At 42nd Street the parade turns left and goes east, then at 6th Avenue turns right again at Bryant Park. Heading south on 6th Avenue, the parade turns right at 34th Street (Herald Square) and proceeds west to the terminating point at 7th Avenue where the floats are taken down. The 2009 route change eliminated Broadway completely, where the parade has traveled down for decades. The City of New York said that the new route will provide more space for the parade, and more viewing space for spectators. Another reason for implementing the route change is the city’s plan to turn Broadway into a pedestrian-only zone at Times Square. There are plans to eliminate Times Square altogether and reroute the parade down Sixth Avenue for 2011, a move that is being protested by the Times Square BID, Broadway theatre owners and other groups. The move is an effort to enforce some measure of exclusivity for NBC, the parade’s official broadcaster, by moving the parade away from CBS’s studios in Times Square.

It is not advised to view the parade from Columbus Circle, as balloon teams race through it due to higher winds in this flat area.

New York City officials preview the parade route and try to eliminate as many potential obstacles as possible, including rotating overhead traffic signals out of the way.

Things have not gone so smoothly through out the years. Here are a list of incidents:

In 1957, a Popeye the Sailor balloon’s hat filled with rain water during heavy rain, which caused the balloon to go off-course and pour water on the crowd.
In 1985, the Kermit the Frog balloon tore at the stomach. No one was injured.
In 1986, a Raggedy Ann balloon crashed into a lamppost and sent a lamp into the street. The same year, a Superman balloon had its hand torn off by a tree. Neither incident caused any injuries.
In 1993, the Sonic the Hedgehog balloon crashed into a lamppost at Columbus Circle and injured an off-duty police officer.
In 1994, the Barney balloon tore its side on a lamppost, but no one was injured.
In 1995, the Dudley the Dragon balloon that was leading the parade was speared and deflated on a lamppost and showered glass on the crowd below.
In 1997, high winds pushed the Cat in the Hat balloon into a lamppost. The falling debris struck a parade-goer, fracturing her skull and leaving her in a coma for a month. Size rules were implemented the next year, eliminating larger balloons like the Cat in the Hat. The same high winds also caused the New York Police to stab and stomp down the Barney balloon over crowd concerns. They also stabbed a Pink Panther balloon for the same reason. Neither balloon actually caused any injuries.
In 2005, the M&M’s chocolate candies balloon caught on a streetlight in Times Square. Two sisters were struck by falling debris, suffering minor injuries. As a result, new safety rules were introduced. Those rules came in handy for the 2006 parade, as balloons were lowered because of rain and high winds. The M&M’s balloon was retired after 2006, and replaced by a float saluting Broadway theatre and musicals.

There is also a symbolism that happens at the end of the parade. Santa arrives at the end of the parade to bring in the beginning of the Christmas season. It always made me feel festive once Santa arrived.

So every thanksgiving morning I celebrate the beginning of the Christmas season by baking cinnamon rolls and watching the parade. I also continue this tradition in remembrance of my grandma who passed a few years ago, and who though we rarely seen eye to eye, this is one activity that we both enjoyed.

If you wish to watch this year’s parade, it is typically on the local news channels and on at 9am. Here in California it is on channel’s 2 and 5 at 9am. I hope everyone has a safe and wonderful Thanksgiving.

Thanks for reading,

Published in: on November 24, 2011 at 4:30 AM  Leave a Comment  

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