Friday, November 5, 2010


   Who hasn't grown up in the United States watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade on television every year?  To me, it wouldn't be Thanksgiving without the Macy's Day parade.  Promptly at 9 am in the morning, eastern time.  The television is tuned to the Thanksgiving Day parade (I'll probably dvr it, just in case I don't get up in time to see it), accompanied by the pleasant aroma of turkey and stuffing in the oven.  The kids watch the Thanksgiving parade while waiting for the Thanksgiving dinner menu to be done at or around 1 or 2 o'clock.  After Santa arrives in his sleigh on the television, it's time to eat some early Thanksgiving snacks.

   The annual Thanksgiving Day parade event in New York City was started by Macy's department store on Thanksgiving Day in 1924.  The first of the annual Thanksgiving day parades in the area, however, occurred at the Bamberger's department store in New Jersey.
  The Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade was made popular by immigrants.  It became a combination of the American Thanksgiving tradition and the European custom of having a festival.  The firstr Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade in New York was comprised mostly of Macy's employees.  The employees dressed as clowns or in other colorful costumes.  They marched together from Harlem to the main Macy's store on 34th Street at Herald Square.

   There were also floats and marching bands, just like in today's Macy's Day parades.  During the first parade, the Central Park Zoo donated 25 live animals for the Thanksgiving Day parade.  Santa led the Macy's Day parade in 1934.  Except for that one year, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade has always ended with Santa arriving.  More than 250,000 people attended the very first Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.  Macy's immediately announced that the Thanksgiving parade would be held every year.
   The live animals from the Central Park Zoo were featured in Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade for three years.  Then they were replaced with extra large balloons that were shaped like animals.  Felix the Cat was the first balloon ever in the Macy's Day Parade.

   The parade balloons were a huge success.  Originally, they were released at the end of the Macy's Day parade.  Whoever found them won a Macy's gift certificate.
  The Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade continued to grow in popularity each year.  In less than a decade, more than a million people attended the Thanksgiving Day parade.  The parade began to be announced on the radio.  The Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade became famous nationwide after being included in the classic Christmas movie, "Miracle on 34th Street", in 1947.

   The only years Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade didn't occur were 1942-44.  World War II caused a rubber and helium shortage.  Because of this, the Thanksgiving parade was cancelled. 
   The annual Thanksgiving parade resumed in 1945.  The Macy's Day parade was televised for the first time in New York.  To make the Thanksgiving Day parade easier to film, the parade route was changed.  The Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade uses this same route today.

   Macy's Thanksgiving Day parades have evolved from the very first Macy's Day parade.  Today's Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade includes over 10.000 parade participants.  Giant helium balloons are displayed by marching volunteers.  Hot celebrities perform live for the parade event.  Floats and marching bands still entertain viewers.

   Today, almost three million people watch the Macy's Day parade in person in New York City.  Over 40 million people watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade on television every year.  NBC has broadcast the Thanksgiving parade for over 50 years.  Television coverage of the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade has even earned Emmy Awards.


   Although decorating Christmas trees can be traced back to ancient Romans who decorated trees with small pieces of metal during their winter festival, it was not until the 16th century that fir trees where brought indoors at Christmas.
   And in the 1840's, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert introduced the Christmas tree as the centrepiece of the royal family's holiday celebration.  In fact many of our festive customs and traditions date back to Victorian times.  The Victorians loved music, many had a piano or organ in the parlor at home and family sing a longs were customary throughout the year.  It is not surprising that they revived the old medieval carols and also composed new ones.

Christmas Cards
   We also have the Victorians to thank for the tradition of sending Christmas cards.  The very first Christmas card was printed in December 1843, at the request of Sir Henry Cole.  The artist J.C. Horsley was commissioned to produce the card which illustrated a wealthy family enjoying a Christmas feast as they all toast the festive season by drinking wine.
   Victorian Christmas cards were extremely elaborate, many gilded and embossed and some in pop up form.

Father Christmas

   In medieval England and for centuries afterwards, the figure of Father Christmas represented the spirit of benevolence and good cheer.  At Christmas time the Victorians also encouraged gift giving and charity to the poor.
   Exchanging gifts was a symbol of good luck, happiness and friendship.  The Victorians started planning their presents months ahead and most cherished gifts were handmade pieces of needlework or something useful.


Holly, Ivy and Mistletoe

   During the Roman Solstice Ceremony, holly was used , as it was believed red berries would ward off evil spirits.  Ivy was twined in the holly but Mistletoe was not allowed in churches because of its pagan origins.  The Victorians used mistletoe suspended from the ceiling and those who met under it could claim a kiss but only if there were berries on the plant.  Each time a kiss was exchanged a berry was taken off the plant until no more berries, no more kisses!

Christmas Feast in Victorian Times

   After attending church, Victorians had their Christmas dinner to look forward to.  This was one of the high points of their day and a large meal was served.  There would have been a fowl of some kind and maybe goose.  Other foods that may have been on the menu included: turkey, ham, oysters, a boar's head, Yorkshire pudding, cranberry pie, mince pie and plum pudding.
   The serving of the pudding was one of the great rituals of the Victorian Christmas dinner.  Made of suet, bread crumbs, raisins and spices, the making of the pudding would have been a family effort much enjoyed in the build up to Christmas.
   In the evening after presents had been exchanged and food enjoyed, the Victorians would have enjoyed singing, games and fireworks.