Sarada Anne, MBA Class of 2017
I had never crossed the Atlantic before I moved to this city and I had been here for all of two months when I signed up to write for the Oppy. And if you’re wondering why the good people running the paper are letting me write a column on the history of New York City, your guess is as good as mine. So, it is only fitting that I give thanks to these trusting folk by writing about a parade that was started by immigrants (like me) to celebrate the city – and the country – that had become their home.
On November 27th, 1924, Macy’s employees, accompanied by floats, marching bands and animals from the Central Park Zoo, marched from Harlem to Herald Square in the first ever Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The parade was their way of celebrating their nascent American heritage, while incorporating elements of holiday traditions from their European homelands. It is more likely, however, that Macy’s sponsored the parade for purely marketing purposes. It was, after all, the Roaring Twenties; the retailer had gone public only a couple of years before and their flagship store was expanded to cover a whole block to create “the world’s largest department store”. But I would much rather believe in the warm, fuzzy and Miracle on 34th Street-esque explanation that it was done for the store’s employees celebrating their new American lives. Besides, before Macy’s started its eponymous parade, Thanksgiving in New York consisted primarily of children painting their faces black and running around town in tattered clothes, pretending to be ‘ragamuffins’ begging for money and food. The parade was clearly a welcome alternative.
Over the years, the Macy’s Parade has become a New York institution, but not without the changes that made it what it is today. 1927 saw the zoo animals being replaced by the first parade balloon (Felix the Cat, in case you were wondering) and it marked the beginning of an unending list of balloon characters and related mishaps. Except for a few years in the 1940s, that is. The Parade was suspended from 1942-44, when the balloons were recycled into rubber for America’s World War II efforts. 2 million people turned up to watch the Parade when it returned in 1945 and that number reached 3.5 million in 2014, with an additional 22 million people watching the live broadcast on TV. For an uninitiated newbie like me, it stands for the same things that the city does: crowded and consumerist, but probably worth the effort anyway.
That being said, I’ve tried my best to put aside all holiday-related cynicism for this piece. So, if it turned out to be too much for you because you don’t like the holidays either or you’re just a cold and bitter human being, worry not! For you, I have this picture from the 1932 edition: the most disturbing Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon ever.
A turkey balloon from the 1932 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade