Sci-Fi And The Macys Thanksgiving Day Parade

There’s an annual fantasy extravaganza in New York this week, which now, thanks to the web, can be viewed live ANYWHERE in the world…

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The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade can be regarded almost as a touchstone for genre fans…

That may sound like a surprising statement for those of us in the UK who’ve vaguely heard of the annual event, but assume it’s merely a more elaborate version of those parades of carnival floats and shivering majorettes that occasionally shut down the high streets of market town over here. But bear with us.

Thanksgiving is observed every year in the United States on the fourth Thursday of November, as one of the biggest get-a-day-off from work – and school – holidays. An evolution of harvest festivals (grateful for that year’s fortunes), Thanksgiving is celebrated almost like a non-denominational Christmas (but without the presents!) with loved ones gathering for a huge meal (traditionally featuring a roast turkey).

Thanksgiving also commemorates the first such feast shared between the Pilgrim settlers in Massachusetts and their Native American neighbors, in 1621, the Brits’ second winter in “the New World’.

For some families, the television day is also a significant part of the festivities, beginning with the national broadcast of the Macy’s Parade marching for nearly 50 blocks down Broadway, in Manhattan. Many TV stations follow with sporting events, along with family and seasonal programs and specials. In the 1960s, one country-wide network devoted the afternoon to their usual Saturday morning cartoon fare. Today, some local outlets continue to offer marathons of animation and childrens’ series.

But the Parade, almost from its beginnings in 1924, has paid tribute to popular characters of the imagination, particularly with its famous, GIGANTIC, helium balloons. The aerial stars – up to 70 feet in length! – have included Popeye, Superman, Bugs Bunny, Curious George, Spider-Man and Woody Woodpecker.

Huge floats have also been devoted to current, or forthcoming, fantasy blockbusters. The telecast also showcases performances from current Broadway muscials, staged outdoors live in Herald Square, and has featured Beauty and the Beast , Mary Poppins , Phantom of the Opera , Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Wicked .

The three-hour extravaganza culminates with the appearance of Santa Claus, as well chronicled in the Hollywood chestnut, Miracle on 34th Street – whose original version, from 1947, actually features footage shot at the previous year’s gala.

The fesitivies, this year on November 24, begin at 9 am., New York time (2 pm, here in Great Britain), and can be viewed on any number of streaming web services.

A nice tip for tourists: As fun as it can be to watch the parade in person (if you can withstand the crowds), it’s also a treat, and a less rambunctious one, to watch the balloons being inflated the day before – roughly between 5 pm and 10 pm – on 77th Street, between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue (next to the Museum of Natural History). Unbeknownst to even many native New Yorkers is that directly after the parade, around noon, you can also see the baloons being decompressed and contracted, along some of the side streets, near 34th Street and 6th Avenue/The Avenue of the Americas.

James H Burns

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James H (Jim) Burns was a pioneer of the second wave of fantasy and science fiction movie magazines, being one of the first writers for Starlog (and several other late 1970s publications), and a contributing editor to Fantastic Films, and Prevue. Jim was also a key figure in many of the era’s North Eastern American comic book and Star Trek conventions. Burns was one of the field’s first writers to cross over to such mainstream fare as GQ , Esquire and American Film , while still contributing to such genre stalwarts as Cinefantastique , Heavy Metal and Twilight Zone magazines. More recently, Jim has made several contributions to Off-Broadway, and Broadway productions, become active in radio, and written Op-Eds, or features, for Newsday and The New York Times .

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