High school bands. Lip syncing. Matt Laurer. Yeah, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is cheesy. Three hours of schlock is hard to take. It fills a lazy block of holiday morning time, when most of us have slept in late and, at best, have just begun to preheat the oven and chop yams. Still wearing our slippers and sipping coffee, we feel sorry for the NBC people who had to wake up early and go to work. Many adults find the parade telecast boring, and it’s doubtful any Pixar-raised child could invest more than 10 minutes in it.
But the Macy’s parade delivers a single, visual quality that towers (literally) over the sloppy choreography and humiliating celebrity appearances. The balloons! Round and colorful, they bob like hallucinations past the flat, stone edifices of the city. Tiny ants at the ends of guylines ease these cartoon behemoths around the corners of Midtown office buildings. The feat has become so routine—this is the parade’s 83rd year—that our eyes miss seeing it for the remarkable spectacle it is.
Some of my earliest, dimmest impressions of New York—before I ever visited the city—are of the Macy’s parade on TV. At no point did I ever imagine being there. As childhood impressions go, New York City was similar to the Land of Oz—vivid, fun and purely fictitious.
Now this is my 8th November in New York. I have never actually been to the parade, since I always travel to Maryland to spend Thanksgiving with my family. But I always catch a few minutes of the parade on TV, or I see the photos later. Don’t let familiarity spoil how cool those images are. Balloons and buildings, speaking to one another: A pairing of color and monochrome, soft and hard, fleeting and permanent. The Macy’s balloons are a perfect artistic response to the canyons of Manhattan.