The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is a pretty major event every year, so I thought it’d be neat to talk about it a bit and post some pictures of the parade from the 1920’s. But as I was looking it up I was surprised to learn that the parade was started by first generation immigrants, which struck me as a little ironic. I say “ironic” because immigration is a major and divisive topic in the US these days. But regardless of how you feel immigration policy should be conducted, I am excited to know that something as “American” as the Macy’s Day parade was largely founded by the influx of European immigrants.
In the 1920’s Macy’s department stores were largely staffed with immigrant workers. These new Americans were very proud to be part of this country and wanted to celebrate with a parade much like how they would in Europe. There was already an annual Thanksgiving parade in Newark, New Jersy started by Louis Bamberger for the Bamberger store, but in 1924 it was transferred to New York. The Macy’s employees marched to Herald’s Square dressed in vibrant costumes they made. They dressed up as clowns, cowboys, knights, sheikhs and elves. The first parade had floats, had professional bands and borrowed animals from the Central Park Zoo (it wasn’t until 1927 that the parade had giant balloons, the first being Felix the Cat). At the end of that first parade Santa Claus made his appearance at Herald Square, a tradition that has continued ever since. Over a quarter of a million people attended the parade, and Macy’s immediately monopolized on its success by declaring it an annual event. By 1933 the gathered crowd numbered over a million.
The parade has become bigger and bigger every year, with new floats, balloons, bands, and performances all backed by lots of marketing investments. But it is important to understand how influential immigrants were to the shaping this iconic event in our culture. We all need to be reminded of how this country was founded and supported by immigrant peoples. The Macy’s Parade is a wonderful example of how America is at its best when we are inclusive and celebrate our diversity instead of attacking it. Unfortunately our country is too often caught up in consumerism, race, fear mongering politics, and misbehaving celebrities to take the time to be united in mutual thankfulness and brotherly love. I suppose those are in part my own sentiments.
Anyway, I am glad that I can say I am thankful for many things about living in America despite the problems that we still struggle to resolve. Nothing is perfect. So this season I suggest that you gather your loved ones close and celebrate yourselves, much like those first generation immigrants who started a parade because they were so happy to be a part of this nation.
And I want to quickly thank you guys for reading my blog. I am still surprised by the number of people who read it, and I am glad y’all do.