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Thanksgiving Parade: An Urban Phenomenon

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MACY FLOATS
Craig Ruttle, AP

Macy's Thanksgiving Parade is the most urban of holiday celebrations. Nothing can spoil it. It is New York's best and New York at it's best. In fact, it is people at their best too.

Let me explain.

I live on the second floor of an apartment house overlooking Central Park and the parade route and have been having a festive parade party for the 39 years since my family moved in. I hear voices, nothing loud, emanating from the street starting at around 5 a.m. when people start gathering to get a curbside spot. Sometimes they bring chaises to doze on until daylight.

When I awake, needing to prepare for my sometimes 50-60 guests of all ages, I look out to a sea of happy faces. Strangers are talking to strangers. Conviviality reigns. No one is pepper spraying to get a choicer position. Racial variations are as endless as in the city itself. I lose track of how many different languages I hear when I open my window. In all these years, I've never witnessed an angry moment. I can't remember even hearing or reading any reports of ill will.

Who cannot love seeing the familiar and not-so-familiar balloons and the occasional entertainer who those of us older than 16 have never heard of. Fortunately, I have several grandchildren plus dozens of other guest children to bring me up to date.

I like to say that I raised a whole generation of New York kids -- I have two daughters and lots of their friends -- who used to think I gave the parade. Now they come back with their kids. Isn't that what Thanksgiving is about?

What is so remarkable is that this is Macy's parade. It is as commercial as can be and it doesn't feel one bit so. I see the Macy's name on all the drums of those fabulous high school bands that go marching by, coming from far away places most of us have never heard of. What a thrill it must be for those kids to have the honor of marching on this special day. The smiles on their faces tells the story. The Macy's name is in several places but it is never over-conspicuous. Promotions of shows, stars, wannabe-stars, and God knows what else are all over the place and not one bit of it offends the sensibility.

Macy's deserves every bit of potential profit it can earn from this effort. Let it be recognized, that when so many city-born department stores were abandoning their birthplace for the suburbs, Macy's never abandoned its historic home (nor did Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord & Taylor or Bergdorf Goodman's). It stayed with us through the bad times and is still here for the good. May it always flourish for that.

New York City used to be filled with elaborate, creative, joyful holiday windows, now mostly a thing of the past. All stores have either cut back or cut out such holiday investments -- or, the stores themselves have disappeared. But Macy's doesn't hold back or cut corners. The parade remains as robust and fun-filled as ever.

When I was a little girl growing up in Greenwich Village, my parents, my sister and I would take the Fifth Avenue bus UP (yes Fifth Avenue went two ways and should be again) to 59th Street. Starting at Bergdorf Goodman, we would walk down Fifth taking in all the windows as if we were art gallery hopping. No more.

Lord & Taylor is still pretty reliable but dramatically diminished. Their windows used to be worth a good hour of serious observation. One had to look hard at all the intricate tableaux with moving parts, delicately decorated houses, charming miniature people in elaborate holiday outfits, reflecting themes of international or local traditions. I took my grandchildren this year in great anticipation. Delightful as always but disappointingly diminished.

Nearby, however, a new city tradition has been added with an ice-skating rink in Bryant Park, the once dead but now exuberantly alive city park that changed our understanding of city parks with its transformation 30 years ago. Watching skaters at a public rink is always entertaining -- a great opportunity to laugh at someone else's expense.

This year, the glow of this joyful day was extinguished around midnight. I had collapsed in bed exhausted around 11 p.m. I feel right asleep but was awakened sometime before midnight by the sound of voices, as I usually hear around 5 a.m. before the parade. I thought I was dreaming. I got up to look out the window and couldn't believe all the people lined up across the street, a line snaking down to Columbus Circle three blocks away. It must have been 1,000 people or more lined up for Best Buy around the corner, opening at Midnight. What a damper on the spirit of a most extraordinary day.

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