Wednesday, November 3, 2021

A Thanksgiving Tradition ~ Julie Lence


Courtesy of Time Out

The holiday season is fast approaching, and with Thanksgiving one of my favorite holiday’s to celebrate, I’m stepping out the Cowboy Kisses realm of ‘all things western’ to talk about one of my favorite traditions—The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. My mother was born in Germany. When she was seven, she came to the United States with her parents. Jackson Heights, Queens in New York City became home until she and my father married. Mom moved upstate and as my brothers and sister and me came along, visiting her family in the city was a treat, and something we did about 4 times a year. At least one of those occasion was New Year’s Eve to  celebrate Christmas, and some years we visited to celebrate Thanksgiving. Of those occasions, I can remember going to the parade twice.

Mom and Dad would bundle us in warm clothes (it’s hard to remember a winter back then without frigid cold and piles of snow) and we’d head into Manhattan for the parade. I can’t tell you for certain where along the parade route we sat, but I can say the route was at least 10 people deep, with adults letting the children sit on the curbs. We shivered, we fussed and whined, and through it all, we had fun. The clowns would talk with us, we heard marching bands play and sometimes one or more of the celebrities would sing at our exact spot. And, of course, we couldn’t wait to get back on the subway (always a thrill to ride) and return to the warmth of Grandma’s house and dinner. (One thing I remember was my Dad’s mother in upstate telling me she saw a girl on tv with the same color coat as me, hinting it was me she saw. But I know now Grandma was doing what all Grandma’s do—making her granddaughter feel special!)  

Rowland Hussey Macy
Find A Grave

Debuting in 1924 as The Macy’s Christmas Parade, the parade ties with America’s Thanksgiving Parade in Detroit as the 2nd oldest parade in the U.S.  Philadelphia’s Thanksgiving Parade is the oldest.  Born August 1822 on Nantucket Island, MA, Rowland Hussey Macy is the founder of Macy’s Department Store. At 15 years of age, he left home to sail the Atlantic, returned 4 years later and met with no success on owning and operating 2 stores. He also had little success working for his brother-in-law and left the east coast for California’s gold rush. California proved a bust and he returned to Massachusetts and opened a dry goods store in Havervill with his brother, but left there to open his own store in a low-rent area of New York City. By clearly marking prices on items for sale and advertising those prices in newspapers, he finally met with success. Employing the 1st in-store Santa Claus, Macy played a major role in creating Christmas in America for both retail and religion. He was also the first businessman to promote a saleswoman to store manager, making Margaret Getchell the 1st woman to hold an executive position with a major American retail company. He is also responsible for the red star in the Macy’s logo, an idea he got from the red star tattoo on his arm from when he sailed the Atlantic. Macy passed away in 1877, with 11 connected buildings on 13th and 14th Streets in Manhattan, NY.    

Courtesy of Vintage News Daily

In the early 1900’s, the closest thing New York City had for a Thanksgiving Day parade was (which some said was annoying) the tradition of children painting their faces and wearing tattered clothes and going door-to-door asking for pennies, apples and candy. With Philadelphia’s Gimbel Brothers Department store hosting the 1st Thanksgiving Parade in 1920, and Detroit’s JL Hudson Department Store chiming in to host their own parade in 1924, Macy’s jumped into action with their Thanksgiving parade the same year as Detroit. On a sunny November 27th morning, at the intersection of 145th Street and Convent Avenue, a police escort led the start of the parade, which overlapped with church services but ended in plenty of time for parade watchers to attend the Syracuse/Columbia Universities football game at the Polo Grounds. The route was 6 miles, from Harlem to Herald Square, and boasted Mother Goose floats such as The Old Woman Who lived in the Shoe, Little Miss Muffet, and Little Red Riding Hood. Macy employees wore cowboy, clown and knight costumes, and bears, elephants, monkeys and donkeys from the Central Park Zoo appeared in the parade. 

Courtesy of Vintage News Daily

Rounding out the parade was Santa Claus sitting on top of a mountain of ice in his sleigh pulled by reindeer. The official end time in Herald’s Square was noon, with thousands of people cheering on the arrival of Santa, who climbed a ladder and sat on a gold throne on the marquee above the store’s 34th Street entrance. The parade was a huge success with those in attendance that Macy Department Store announced the next day they would host another parade the following year.

Felix the Cat
courtesy of The Hatching Cat

The roars of the animals from the zoo weren’t well received, (nor did the animals care to be in the parade) and Macy’s quickly did away with them, adding helium filled balloon characters to replace them. Felix the Cat was the first to awe the crowds, and many followed, such as Snoopy and SpongeBob Square Pants. Marching bands and singing celebrities were added, as well as musical numbers from Broadway shows. The length of the parade route increased and the Rockettes were invited to dazzle young and old with their famous legs. Today, all the above and more wow in Herald Square, Santa Claus continuing to arrive at noon and officially mark the start of the holiday/Christmas season, all thanks to Rowland H. Macy for not giving up on his dream of owning a successful store.       

Courtesy of Going Places, Near & Far




Lianna Hawkins said...

This was really interesting! I really didn't know much history about this well-known parade. Thanks for sharing.

Julie Lence said...

Glad you enjoyed, Lianna. Hugs!