Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is a Turkey Day tradition, but with most holidays and events being canceled due to the global pandemic, many thought the Macy’s Parade would be canceled as well. However, the retail giant still held its celebrated annual parade, just with some changes. And it looks like COVID-19 may have accidentally caused the most inclusive Thanksgiving Day Parade ever.
The Macy’s Parade is held every year on American Thanksgiving, which is celebrated the fourth Thursday of November. It’s intended to be a celebration of giving thanks and sacrifice for the blessing of the harvest. Similar holidays are observed in various other countries. The event largely considered to be the first Thanksgiving was held in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1621 and was attended both by the Pilgrims and by members of the local Wampanoag tribe.
But like all things associated with American history, Thanksgiving celebrates a dark part of our past that we often try to gloss over. Over the years, there has been much controversy attached to it. Some Indigenous and Native groups consider this day to be a “national day of mourning”, as it seems to celebrate white Europeans colonizing the land and causing the genocide of the native tribes. It does present a very white-washed version of American history, showing European colonists shaking hands and making nice with Native tribes, only to proceed to nearly wipe them out over the next couple of centuries.
And the Macy’s Parade, as someone who loves it and watches it every year, does tend to emphasize commercialism. After all, Macy’s is an international department store, many of the floats are sponsored by corporations, and most of the balloons are characters from American pop culture. There’s very little acknowledgement of the purpose of the holiday, or even the recognition of the Native groups who were supposedly a huge part of the first Thanksgiving.
This year’s parade was a very different parade. Due to multiple COVID-19 restrictions – such as travel limitations and social distancing measures – the traditional format was changed. For instance, the parade route was shortened in an attempt to reduce crowds, and balloons were pulled by car instead of by volunteers. No groups from outside the state of New York could participate, which meant that there were no high school or college marching bands from all around the country.
In complying with these restrictions, Macy’s may have accidentally created their most inclusive parade ever. In order to fill the void left by the absence of marching bands, Macy’s invited local NYC groups from different organizations whose parades were canceled this year to perform in the prime spot in front of Macy’s Department Store near Herald Square in Midtown Manhattan.
These groups represented canceled events like the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade, the Mermaid Parade, Pride, the Puerto Rican Day Parade, and the West Indian American Day Parade. The FDNY Emerald Society played the bagpipes, a group representing the Mermaid Parade did a samba drumline, the Lesbian & Gay Big Apple Corps performed ABBA’s “Dancing Queen”, and the Puerto Rican Day Parade and West Indian American Day Parade performed traditional dances.
Other performances were just as diverse. There were performances from the largely Black casts of Broadway shows Hamilton and Ain’t Too Proud, among others. Plus, international and historically Black sorority Zeta Phi Beta put together a troupe of steppers to do a routine in honor of the group’s centennial.
The parade itself featured some important representation. Olay’s float, “Her Future Is STEM-sational” featured a Black female astronaut (with natural hair, even!) to celebrate women in STEM. Latin-Grammy nominated Spanish language group CNCO performed on the Rise of the TMNT float. The parade also brought back acclaimed Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama’s “Love Flies Up to the Sky” balloon, the first female artist-designed balloon to be featured in the Macy’s Parade.
Perhaps most importantly, members of the Wampanoag Tribe were present to read a traditional blessing in their native language. I could be wrong, but I do believe that in the Parade’s 94-year history, there hasn’t been a Native American group featured as part of the parade before. This is honestly something that needs to be in every Thanksgiving Day Parade, and I cannot believe it hasn’t been included before.
— Macy’s (@Macys) November 26, 2020
So while the Macy’s Parade largely still promotes commercialism, and this does nothing to atone for years of erasure of Indigenous and Native peoples, I cannot help but be a little bit cheered by the fact that Macy’s actually seemed to try and be inclusive this year. We have no idea what 2021 will hold, but I hope that this is a tradition that Macy’s continues for many years to come.
Author: Jamie Sugah
Jamie has a BA in English with a focus in creative writing from The Ohio State University. She self-published her first novel, The Perils of Long Hair on a Windy Day, which is available through Amazon. She is currently an archivist and lives in New York City with her demon ninja vampire cat. She covers television, books, movies, anime, and conventions in the NYC area.
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