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November 27: The First Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade

Lawrence Bush
November 27, 2016
Macy's acquired the Thanksgiving Day Parade launched by Bamberger’s Department Store in Newark in 1921 and transferred it to New York on this date in 1924, calling it the Macy’s Christmas Parade. (Macy’s would buy Louis Bamberger’s whole business five years later, though they preserved the store’s name.) Gimbel’s, a key competitor to Macy’s, had been the first of the mostly Jewish-owned department stores to sponsor a Thanksgiving Day parade (in 1920 in Philadephia), but by 1924 Macy’s had emerged as the largest of the rival stores and its parade became the parade. The 1924 Macy’s parade was primarily populated by Macy’s first-generation immigrant employees, and included floats that “featured Mother Goose favorites such as the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe, Little Miss Muffet and Little Red Riding Hood,” according to history writer Christopher Klein. Musical bands accompanied the floats, as did a menagerie of animals borrowed from the Central Park Zoo, and Santa Claus, who was crowned “the King of the Kiddies.” More than 250,000 New Yorkers and tourists viewed the procession. Macy’s had been purchased in 1895 by brothers Isidor and Nathan Straus, who were among the original department store’s vendors. They built it into a behemoth. "Macy’s Christmas Parade quickly became a New York holiday tradition to the joy of nearly all except the zoo animals, who did not revel in the six-mile journey, and the marchers treading carefully in their wake. The roars and growls from the tired animals frightened young spectators, so they were replaced by less-surly and more-obedient character balloons . . ." --Christopher Klein, History.com

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.