Under giant helium balloons floating through Manhattan during Macy’s Thanksgiving parade on Thursday morning, people in the crowd shouted out. Cries of “Happy Thanksgiving!” Echoed in Central Park West, all the way to Herald Square.
A year after the virus forced the parade into a single block with no spectators, the words sounded powerful. The twirlers, waders, marching bands, spectators wearing toddlers wearing turkey hats on a parade back to his old self, were unmistakably happy.
And in a city reeling from the loss of so many New Yorkers in the past 20 months, no word better summed up the emotion of those who were there than grateful.
“To be able to be in a social environment, that’s all! Said Asa Jenkins, 36, coordinator of the research study who brought her two children from Aiken, South Carolina, for the parade, their first family trip since the start of the pandemic. After more than a year of remote meetings for her and virtual school for her children, Christian, 8, and Eden, 5, Ms Jenkins said this year she couldn’t bear to watch the parade at television. They had to come in person.
“All we’ve done is screens,” Ms. Jenkins said as a 51-foot-long balloon featuring children’s book character Ada Twist, Scientist, floated above her head. “This is what we need.”
The parade, which began in 1924 and was rarely canceled, such as during World War II, was back in all its 2.5-mile glory. The avenues were packed with 4,500 volunteers shooting 15 giant helium balloons and throwing confetti.
There have been some differences this year. The New York tradition of watching balloons inflated the night before on the Upper West Side was only open to those who were vaccinated. Some squads of joy marched with masks to match their berets; a group of tuba players were pulling their masks up and down between blasts of the horns.
Simeon Guyton, 19, a Hampton University Marching Force twirler, said the Virginia troop spent much of the past year training online. Now in his sophomore year at Hampton, he said his freshman was entirely gone and he stayed in shape by twirling his stick around his driveway.
“To be back with my group family is such a relief,” he said. “The pandemic is not over, but we can all be together in a controlled and safe way. “
Each year, the best seats in the house are usually found inside apartments in stately buildings next to Central Park; some residents and their guests ate bagel breakfasts high above the crowds on Thursday as they watched the scene.
But stretching over nearly two blocks of Central Park West, about 100 members of a group from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sat in the front row in folding chairs, seats of orchestra they got when they arrived at 4 a.m., a community tradition that was canceled last year.
But not all of the rituals erased by the coronavirus had returned. Rebecca Mattoni, who lives on the Upper West Side, said before the pandemic, she typically hosted a dozen people for Thanksgiving. This year, she was welcoming a guest.
“It’s always fun because last year we didn’t have any guests,” Ms. Mattoni said. “It’s an improvement.”
Marcela Pleitéz, 38, an educator from the Bronx, felt the same. She had a family for the holidays this year, but wasn’t sure if they should kiss. She did, however, hug her parents. They were standing next to her, having just arrived from El Salvador, where they live, to see their daughter for the first time since before the pandemic started. “You can’t ask for more right now,” Ms. Pleitéz said.
A few blocks south, Bob Meyers, a retired teacher from North Arlington, NJ, was more excited that there were finally tourists in the crowd than the 48-foot-long Pikachu floating on a sleigh above him.
“We have Israel here! Mr Meyers, 77, said, pointing to visitors he had befriended as they watched the parade together. “And there is Chile! It really gives juice!
The show itself seemed to hint at the greater freedom of movement that a descending pandemic could allow. Several tanks promoted escapades. Rapper Nelly stood on top of a float advertising the Kalahari Resorts and Conventions. A giant alligator – at 60 feet, the longest float in parade history, according to Macy’s – crawled along the parade route courtesy of the Louisiana Tourist Board; nearby, a replica of Mount Rushmore was paraded alongside people disguised as fishermen and hikers, courtesy of the South Dakota Department of Tourism.
Dr Pam Martin, a visiting doctor from Keller, Texas, said her family had planned their annual parade pilgrimage around vaccines and booster shots; She and her relatives spent the days leading up to it waiting for the vaccine to be cleared in time for her grandnephew, Jordan Johnson, 7, to join.
On Thursday, Jordan was by his side, cheering and grabbing confetti. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cleared immunizations for children her age this month.
Still, Dr Martin said she was concerned the crowd for the parade could cause a spike in coronavirus cases. “I pray that New York is doing it right,” she said.
Alongside the floats, Sgt. Gabriel Vazquez III of the New York City Parks Department’s Mounted Unit and his American draft horse, Apollo, marched in the parade. Sergeant Vasquez hadn’t been on the parade for several years, he said, but this year he couldn’t miss it.
On top of his horse, waving an American flag as they rode the road, he said, “It’s like we’re getting back to normal.”