Thursday, November 22, 2001

For most Americans, Thanksgiving officially begins not with the carving of the turkey or the kickoff of a football game, but earlier, in the morning, when the entire family gathers around the television to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. This year, the venerable event was slated to mark its 75th anniversary, complete with a new producer-director who had taken over when Jean McFadden, the parade’s longtime director, retired.

“I was really looking forward to the challenge,” recalls Robin Hall, the new producer-director. “I used to march in parades as kid in Denver, but this was the real thing.”

That all changed with the events of September 11, as New York and the nation focused on the tragedy at the World Trade Center. The sense of calamity was only intensified by the crash last week in the Rockaways of American Airlines flight 587. But there has never been any question that the parade would go on.

“The parade is synonymous with Thanksgiving for a great many people,” says Mr. Hall. “People even call it ‘the Macy’s Day Parade.’ It’s part of the Thanksgiving ritual for millions.”

This year, instead of the traditional turkey balloon that launches the parade, the procession will begin with the Statue of Liberty, and with Broadway actress Betty Buckley singing a patriotic medley.

Midway through the parade, there will be a “significant” tribute to the firefighters and police officers who lost their lives at the twin towers.

Of course, there had always been patriotic elements in the parade. But this time, onlookers experience patriotism in a way made ever more personal by the events of September 11. Old favorites will be there too, like the Rockettes and the familiar floats, reminding us that while some things change, other things will always stay the same.

“We’re the opening act of the most important family holiday that we have,” says Mr. Hall. “I’m very proud to be a part of it.”I

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