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Balloons, Crowds and Poultry-Shaped Hats: A Thanksgiving Rite Springs Eternal

“With a retinue of clowns, freaks, animals and floats, the bewhiskered man in red, in sight of thousands of persons, arrives at 9 o’clock …”

So began the first-ever New York Times coverage of the first-ever Thanksgiving parade put on by Macy’s department store on Nov. 27, 1924. Ninety-seven years, 11 months and 28 days later, 10-year-old Lynden Alford stood along the parade route at Columbus Circle screaming her head off at the marching bands, baton twirlers and, of course, giant balloon characters — and taking umbrage at the long-ago parade reporter’s characterization of her favorite spectacle.

“Freaks?” Lynden exclaimed in horror as a person dressed as a cookie tossed confetti over her hot-pink hooded jacket and matching pants. “These are people that entertain us and have been entertaining us since 1924!”

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On Thursday, the 98th annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade wended its way across the West Side of Manhattan once again. Its retinue of giant helium balloon characters, from SpongeBob SquarePants to Bluey the dog, bobbed across a perfect blue sky.

Beneath them trundled elaborate floats, including one from Toys “R” Us featuring Geoffrey the Giraffe spinning DJ decks, and another shaped like a giant alligator with a replica of the French Quarter of New Orleans on its back that was sent crawling down Central Park West by the Louisiana Office of Tourism. It was the second full parade since the coronavirus pandemic forced a truncated, blocklong version, and the pomp and extravagance was once again cheered down the avenues.

Bouncing in the crowd, Lynden, from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, considered the long history of the parade, and she grew heated in her defense of the spectacle.

“They are not freaks, not clowns, they are perfect just the way they are!” she said.

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The Clovis North Educational Center Bronco Band from Fresno, Calif., marched past. “This high school came all the way from California to show us how they shine,” she said, her voice attaining a squeal. “I respect them!”

A police officer nearby turned to her. “No more sugar for you,” he said.

“But I love sugar!” Lynden exclaimed.

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