Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and Other Memories of Gratitude

Being a child with a weakness to materialism, one of my happiest memories of Thanksgiving involved waking up early to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. I only had a vague understanding of Macy’s because we didn’t have one in our local shopping mall at the time. I recognized it as somewhat equivalent to Sears whose Christmas catalogue normally turned up in the mail around this time, much to my acclaim. My love for Los Angeles developed a lot over the years but as a child I was drawn to New York City. To me, it carried a sense of black tie sophistication and stoic wealth. I wanted to live in a penthouse apartment with windowed walls and descend to the snowy streets to watch the lighting of the giant Christmas tree. Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade promised a glimpse into my idealized New York where vast blank gaps were hastily filled in with movie magic.

But watching the parade itself was a sort of ritual to me because I didn’t always enjoy it quite as much as I told myself. It took a lot of dedication for me to stay glued to the marching bands and balloons of characters with which I felt no particular affinity. I couldn’t even tell you today who I wanted to see marching down that crowded street. I enjoyed the spectacle; the giant turkey, Santa Claus waving from his float. But something always felt missing or incomplete. Perhaps the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was Christmas foreplay, setting my mind to thinking of gifts while still keeping them a month away. But despite that unfulfilled sensation, watching the parade early in the morning actually meant something to me. Sometimes, I awake close to noon on Thanksgiving Day with a feeling as though I’ve missed something important. Though I know I’d not really set an alarm and deprive myself of addictive dreams in the name of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, a slight pang twinges at me as I momentarily wonder if I missed out on some magic.

Another formative experience involved going to work with my father one gray Thanksgiving morning. I must have been slightly older because I willingly skipped the parade to help my father out. My father’s a carpenter and he was installing cabinets in a condominium by the beach. Before we headed up into the condo, we walked out over the wet sand to watch the violence of the waves beneath the cloudy skies. I held my hands out at my sides and felt myself propelled toward the raging sea by a gust of wind catching my baggy shirt. I’d never been pushed by such wind in my life. I could practically fall against it with all of my weight and find support. I imagined the possibility of being pushed into those waves, the terror. It was exhilarating.

This isn't an actual image from that day but somewhat similar to what I remember.

Another Thanksgiving found me standing in a field of tall, wheat-colored grass gently waving in the breeze. It was just an empty lot beside my aunt’s house. She moved around often so I never got very acquainted with that lot, nor do I know where it would be today (though I can only imagine a house now stands in its place). But in those moments I felt at one with the land for reasons I can’t fully express in writing. The lot of land didn’t look like Southwest Florida to me and this filled me with such a bittersweet rustic spirit.

A scene from the Terrence Malick film To the Wonder (2012) that reminded me of the lot beside my aunt's house.

The holidays that my family celebrated when I was a child left an immeasurable presentation on me creatively. Perhaps it was a feeling of abundance or, in some strange way, a child’s perception of success. How do you measure fortune as a middle class American child? I loved things on a spiritual level and I didn’t always take these intangible joys for granted, but I was still heavily motivated by gifts, candy, and the revelry associated with holidays. I feel I create less when I’m distracted by struggle. When my life feels abundant, my mind feels untethered and I’m no longer afraid to explore new ideas or broaden my vistas. My family were always very generous to me during the holidays and thus I viewed these spellbound moments as charging stations for my creativity. Gifts and social ritual brought inspiration and magic that fueled my creativity. For me, this feeling was strongest in Halloween and Christmas. Thanksgiving was the odd holiday that fell in between, yet even as a child I tried to honor it as best I could. I tried to communicate spiritually with higher powers, I volunteered to lead prayers when my extended family got together for dinner, and (at least as far as I remember) I tried to voice my appreciation for a life that I knew I loved. I did everything possible to stay conscious and acknowledge that I was lucky.

But I grew up in the plastic paradise of Naples, Florida, where the rich elderly go to die in comfort. I was incubated in manicured nature and though I considered myself a privately spiritual child, I never strayed too far from comfort and materialism. It’s easy to feel grateful when my family’s setting the table with a week’s worth of food including at least one pumpkin pie for me and me alone. Prayers of thanks flowed off the tongue when no responsibility stood between me and my writings and drawings or, if I felt like it, video games and TV. How could I not feel rejuvenated by that kind of environment? Just to clarify, I’m not condemning my past because I got so much when others had so little nor am I yearning for a return to those carefree days. Rather I’m acknowledging they existed and concluding that I am inevitably grateful for everything that came from them.