Sponge Bob, Join the Parade!


You can live in LA for decades and hardly pay attention to the Rose Bowl parade – or the Hollywood Christmas Parade, for that matter, which I only know happened this past weekend because I follow Mayor Garcetti on Instagram. But having watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in NYC last week, I can assure you that New Yorkers take pride in their parade in a way that Angelenos can’t imagine. Peeking behind the scenes of parade-making is the way to share the excitement of the whole event with kids because, let’s face it. Watching it on television is a bit of a snore.

77th Street between Central Park West and Columbus where balloons are staged for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

To get your kids to appreciate the value of these traditional spectacles, you’ve gotta show up and see how the sausage gets made. At the end of this post, we tell you how to go behind the scenes at the Rose Bowl and enjoy LA’s signature parade. In the meantime, here’s the story of how we had a little fun at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in NYC this past month.

79th Street between Central Park West and Columbus where balloons are staged for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

Decades ago, when our kids were infants, we were invited to a Pasadena party along the Rose Bowl parade route. My husband loved seeing the floats up close for the first time, but all I remember about the day is trying to contain two toddlers in the crowd (and something about changing a dreadful diaper in a stranger’s home). Years later, my parents volunteered for one of the floats, spending a week helping paste flowers onto a gigantic hare from Alice in Wonderland, a chrysanthmum beast with flowered playing cards scattered among his hind legs. My mom and dad’s enthusiasm for the process was infectious and so I schlepped the kids to see them the day before the parade, and we hung out with the crew that was putting the float together. The sheer number of petals and seeds was mind-numbing and the process of attaching and preserving them incredible – we all got it. The labor of a committed group is what made them special  — and my folks were so excited by the whole experience that they sat on the parade route in the pouring rain, one of a few years in Rose Bowl history that the skies opened on the flower-studded floats. And, on New Year’s Day, I got the kids to watch (some of) the parade because we’d given them context to understand what was worth watching.

This Thanksgiving, I had the good fortune of staying in a lovely apartment next to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City (my son had knee surgery and a friend gave us their apartment for us to stay in while he recovered). Much to my delight, the balloons in the Macy’s Day parade are staged on the streets around the museum, and I learned that visiting them the night before Thanksgiving is a thing that New Yorkers do with their kids. Columbus Avenue fills up with throngs of people patiently waiting in the cold for a chance to view the cartoon balloons, which are netted down to the ground the safeguard them overnight. The sight of Elf on a Shelf with his (her?!) nose to the ground and the Grinch — new to the parade in 2017, by the way, scrunched to his green knees is priceless. Street vendors sell mugs of hot chocolate and kids perch on their parents’ shoulders to gawk at the spectacle. They seem to understand the magic of getting behind the scenes to see how the whole operation is pulled off.

So, I got up early on Thanksgiving and prowled the block in the morning light. As the sun came up, buses unloaded reams of volunteers in costume who cajoled each other, grabbed cups of coffee and bagels, and meandered over to their posts.  An enthusiastic carnival barker organized the teams: “Clowns should all report to Clown Corner”! Police presence was mighty, more so than in past years, I was told. Scads of volunteers  ambled to their spots – undeterred by the chill, and happy to be part of something special. Folks dressed as muffins mingled with workers with “Grinch” jackets, and with other early risers like myself, out with a dog or a cup of coffee and snapping photos of the crazy scene. Throngs of people work the parade (it takes about forty people to fly each balloon), and since I was surprised to learn that Macy’s employees have the privilege or working the floats – which explained the large amounts of older folks in the mix. Of course, there are scads of marching bands and organizations like the Girl Scouts with tweens and teens mincing around in dance costumes, excited to be part of the big show.

And, a few hours later once all parade participants were assembled, the same happy female announcer slowly invited the balloons to join the floats and bands assembled on Central Park West to emerge from their resting spots on 77th and 79th and march slowly down to Herald Square. “Sponge Bob, Join the Parade!”.

Parade in Progress

If you ever have a chance to spend Thanksgiving in NYC, I recommend taking the kids up to see the balloons as they wait for their moment. And as 2017 winds down, you have a chance to get to know more about our celebrated Rose Bowl parade by traveling to Pasadena to view our special floats before or after their official route. Here’s how you do it before the parade – viewing begins on December 28 and runs through New Year’s Eve, so is a nice activity during the week after Christmas – you can even volunteer to assemble floats if you are of age. Or, purchase tickets for Post-Parade on January 1-January 2 in Altadena. Here’s a link for all the information.