Watching Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade live: A chilly experience that warms the heart

Featured image: NYPD officers march along Central Park West during the 2001 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. (photo by Cheryl Landes)

After hearing the reports on the national news today about the extra security in New York City for this year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, I thought about the first time we attended a parade there 15 years ago. Thanksgiving Day 2001 was slightly past two months after the 9/11 attacks, so the holiday was more significant than ever. The city was still recovering from the shock of the attacks, as rescue operations and investigations continued. We constantly thought about the victims and the loved ones they left behind. We prayed for them and helped any way we could. We were grateful for our families, friends, health, and careers. We were thankful that we were alive. And we were hopeful.

What better way to celebrate than watching the grandest parade of all, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, in person? The thought crossed my mind. Then I forgot about it.

Tom, my husband, must have been thinking about it, too, because when I came home from work the Friday before Thanksgiving, he said, “Let’s go to the parade this year.”

We spent the remaining days before Thanksgiving planning our adventure. Our priorities were:

  • What to wear
  • Where to watch the parade
  • When to leave home
  • Have fun

What we wore

Meteorologists at NY1, the city’s 24-hour news channel, predicted a sunny morning in the low 30s the day of the parade, so we went to Modell’s Sporting Goods to buy a pair of heated socks. We found two pairs of thick, knee-high, gray wool socks with red bands at the top and red heels and toes. A network of thin electrical wires was woven into the wool and connected to a size D battery outlet, protected by a knitted pocket at the top of each sock on the outside of the calf. Each sock took one battery. To connect the batteries to the wires, we inserted each battery upside down into the sock pockets and snapped it into the outlets. The socks began heating as soon as the batteries made contact.

According to the information on the socks’ packaging, the batteries would last four hours, but we didn’t see any details about how long the socks retained heat after the batteries died. So we bought extra batteries just in case.

We assembled the rest of our wardrobe at home:

  • Waterproof boots with good tread (just in case the weather changed)
  • Cotton socks to wear under the heated socks
  • Thermal underwear to be layered under jeans and long-sleeved sweatshirts
  • Heavy waterproof coats with hoods
  • Knit scarves to wrap around our necks
  • Knit caps to wear under our hoods
  • Two layers of gloves

Our garb wouldn’t win any modeling contests in this fashion capital of the world, but at least we’d be comfortable and warm.

Where we watched the parade and when we left home

Although travel to New York City was at record low levels since 9/11, we knew there would still be crowds, so we thought that the best views would be at the beginning of the parade route along Central Park West. We realized that if we were in the public viewing areas closer to Macy’s flagship store at Herald Square, we’d probably have trouble finding a good spot, even if we arrived early.

We targeted 6 a.m. as our arrival time at Central Park West. After factoring in our travel time, we decided to leave two hours early in case there were delays. Our typical journey was a seven-block walk to the Staten Island Ferry Terminal, a 35-minute ride from Staten Island to Lower Manhattan, and a half-hour to 45-minute subway ride (when there were no delays).

The celebration

Neither of us slept well Thanksgiving Eve, because we were as excited as two young kids. The next morning, we packed some snacks and a Thermos of hot chocolate in a day pack, left on time, and arrived at Central Park West 90 minutes later. We chose a viewing spot on the curb on the west side of the street and waited with the few people who had gathered already. For the first time since September, everyone we met felt relaxed, happy, and ready to celebrate. So were we.

The sun rose and added more warmth to the growing crowd. Singles, couples, groups of friends, and entire families lined both sides of the street behind the barricades shaped like blue sawhorses. Some people brought lawn chairs and sat close together, wrapped in Afghans and blankets. Others sat on the curb wrapped in blankets, while the rest of us stood.

As more people arrived, the excitement grew.

Promptly at 9 a.m., the parade began moving slowly toward us, led by the Macy’s star balloons. As the floats and giant balloons passed, we waved and cheered. A few of the musicians and actors riding the floats waved back, while others didn’t make an appearance until they performed at the viewing area where the TV stations broadcast the parade.

Tony Bennett, one of the guest vocalists, worked the crowd from the beginning of the route without singing a note. He constantly smiled as he scanned the crowd on both sides of the street, waved, blew kisses, and said hello.

We loved it.

Our most memorable moment came when the New York Police Department (NYPD) officers proudly marched in formation while carrying the U.S. and New York State flags. The cheers turned into hearty applause, with the crowd yelling thank-yous to the officers for their heroism and sacrifice. The gratitude we expressed was overwhelming, yet comforting. Some people shed tears.

The parade ended at noon with Santa’s arrival in his sleigh. As soon as he passed, we left, filled with joy. I sensed lightheartedness in the air, as though a huge burden that pressed on the entire city had lifted. It felt like we were released from the oppressive fear and worry that had prevailed since those two planes crashed into the World Trade Center.

Everything would be OK. The future is bright. Hope prevails.

If you go

If you’re considering your own Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade adventure, here are a few tips before you go:

  • Plan ahead. If you’re traveling long-distance, book flights and hotel rooms early to take advantage of discounts. Hotels will be more expensive near the parade route. Expect delays on local roads, subways, and ferries. Avoid driving if possible, because navigating traffic in Manhattan is challenging at best, and parking (when you can find it) is expensive. It’s faster and less stressful to take public transportation.
  • Arrive early. Most regular parade-goers recommend at least three and a half hours early.
  • Dress warmly, in layers. Wear comfortable shoes.
  • Choose a viewing spot before you go. The best locations are along the beginning of the route, along Central Park West. Crowds are bigger in the public viewing areas closer to Macy’s at Herald Square.
  • Prepare to stand for several hours. No public seating is available. The seats you see on the TV broadcasts are for selected guests and Macy’s employees in areas that aren’t open to the public. Macy’s discourages people bringing lawn chairs, but we didn’t notice this rule being enforced.
  • Limit liquid intake, because no public restrooms are available along the parade route.

For more information about the parade route, hotels, restaurants, and other parade watching tips, visit the NYC Tourist website.


In case you’re wondering, those sock batteries lasted until the parade ended. We activated them when we arrived at our viewing spot.


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