If you lived close to Manhattan fifteen or twenty years ago, the night before Thanksgiving used to be this really cool, almost underground event.
It's the night when balloons for the Macy's parade are blown up.
I used to go into New York City with my cousins and some friends the night before Thanksgiving. We would grab some dinner not far from Penn Station (those of us who didn't work in the city would arrive there by train from New Jersey or Long Island), then head up to Central Park West alongside the Museum of Natural History.
The balloons were unfurled, spread out along the street, and pedestrians could roam alongside a partially filled Big Bird, Snoopy, or any one of the ginormous balloons that would be on TV the next morning. Some years it was pleasant and mild, others freaking cold, but it was never crowded. The mood was always jovial, and people were friendly and generally happy to be there.
One day, somehow, someone let the secret out. And then what seemed like freaking everybody from New Jersey and Long Island hopped a train into the city on Thanksgiving eve to have dinner (The last year I went my friends and I couldn't get a table at a diner. A freaking diner!) and watch the balloons blow up.
You can't walk in the street and get close to the balloons anymore. No. Now you have to stay on the sidewalk, fenced in like cattle. And you get fed through these zig zags, which is just so pleasant when you're jammed up against thousands of complete strangers. (In my experience, these strangers never look like extras on a movie set, attractive and happy to be there. Instead, they are usually half in the bag, irritable, and just not very pleasant. Really adds to the festive mood of the evening)
To this day, watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade is my favorite thing about the holiday. I gladly endure the 9am interviews with minor characters on NBC dramas and the musical numbers from poorly attended Broadway shows. I love watching the marching bands perform in Herald Square. I get excited when my favorite balloons come onscreen.
And then, the big finale: Santa arrives! (Santa! I know him!!!) And when he does, I know that the Christmas season has officially begun.