I have a lot to be thankful for. Thanksgiving is a time that brings all parts of my family together and a time when the city comes to life in some very obvious ways. Like many New Yorkers I grew up with what I called the “Macy’s Day Parade.”
I got prime seats for watching this year’s parade with three generations of my family. Now that the hubbub has died down I thought it would be a good time to look into what Thanksgiving was like during WWII. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has been around since 1927, though it was suspended for two years during the war. When I looked up articles from the New York Times about the parade there was a distinctive lack of articles about this annual ceremony in 1942 and ’43.
It is easy to be cynical about the parade, it’s a cheesy, corporate production that requires Macy’s employees to give up a holiday and requires young girls to stand out in the cold wearing next to nothing. Sure, you might not normally find the Energizer Bunny endearing and moving but in the parade it is a staple. But on this day I give in to it. I’m as giddy as the six-year-old next to me about the somewhat unknown celebrities being wheeled past me on their way to lip sync in Herald Square. This kind of sentimental advertising has a long history on Thanksgiving, I mean Norman Rockwell knew what he was doing when he painted moving family portraits feasting on a huge bird together just as Folgers knows what it’s doing when it created a commercial in 2010 about a family reuniting that brings my dad to tears (not as hard as you think).
I found an abundance of articles about the price and availability of turkey for civilians. For instance, in 1943 no turkeys were to be sold to civilians in August and September in order to ensure that there would be enough for all the servicemen and women overseas. It is more than tradition: serving turkey for Thanksgiving is actually required by law in the military.
One of the few pieces that I found from 1943 about Thanksgiving was this advertisement to buy war bonds. This ad-disguised-as-a-PSA lists what the nation is fighting for – everything from dozens of chocolate bars to a new car, to feminine non-uniform clothing.
A particularly intriguing article from 1943 dubbed NYC Mayor La Guardia the Dragon Slayer as he stabbed one of the balloons in order to deflate it to then use the rubber for the war effort. There was no parade that year.
The parade ushers in the holiday shopping season, which starts earlier each year, it seems. During WWII, though, this was actually true. One article focuses on the fact that if you wanted your spouse or loved one to receive their gifts in time, you should have already mailed it by Thanksgiving Day. This is a holiday that has long been a mix of sentimentality and commercial stress. That’s without delving into the actual history of what the day commemorates.
I’m thankful that I got to see so much of my family this year. And I’m thankful for the chance to feel that child-like sense of wonder as the balloons float by and the turkey gets carved up by my cousin’s skilled hands.