A True Tradition- Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

Macys LogoAlmost through the first month of our new format for 2014!  My fourth Thursday entry each month will focus on tradition and/or history somehow connected to Christmas.  For January we’ll have a tradition steeped in history or is it  a historic tradition?  Hmm…  Either way, I’m talking about the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  In my family it is most definitely a tradition.  We have watched this parade together since my earliest memories, and definitely every year my sister has been alive.  But the parade has a huge history having just held it’s 87th march.

Macys 2Today the parade is a modern marvel full of dancers, bands, floats, singers, balloons, and technology everywhere.  Over 3.5 million people watch it in person on the streets of Manhattan and 50 million more tune in to watch on TV.  10,000 volunteers and scores of city workers insure the success of the parade in our modern times but it didn’t start that way.  Let’s talk history!  The original Macy’s parade began in 1924.  It is the second oldest Thanksgiving parade in the US.  (the oldest is the Philadelphia Thanksgiving Day Parade- originally the Gimbel’s Parade.  Yes, that Gimbel’s!)
The original Macy’s parade was based on and took over a parade  from Newark, NJ where it operated as the Bamberger’s Parade.  That first parade in ’24 was re-named the Macy’s Christmas Parade.  It began in Harlem and moved through Manhattan to end in Herald Square in front of Macy’s Department Store.  It included floats, bands, and animals from the zoo in Central Park.  The parade ended with the arrival of Santa Claus who was crowned as “King of the Kiddies” in front of the store.  Changes started right from the beginning and the parade had been modernized and improved continually for 90 years.  The iconic image with the parade has to be those giant balloons!

Macys 1Balloons were first added to the parade in 1927 with Felix the Cat.  He was filled with just air and carried through the streets by volunteers.  Helium was added to the balloons the next year (we can talk about some of the challenges of the helium balloons another time).  Also in 1928 began the release of the balloons.  They were let go at the end of the parade and each had a label.  If you found the balloon you could return it to Macy’s for a $100 prize!  That practice would end when the competition to “find” the balloons became too dangerous.  But the balloons are still one of the most popular parts of the parade.  Lots of different balloons have been part of the parade over time.  Some of the additions include Mickey Mouse in ’34, Donald Duck in ’35, Bullwinkle in ’61, Underdog in ’65, Cat in the Hat in ’94, and Buzz Lightyear in ’08.  Some balloons have made many different appearances in the parade.  “Harold” is a character who was in 4 different parades (1945-1948) as 4 different characters: a clown, a baseball player, a policeman, and a fireman.  Mickey Mouse, Spiderman, and Hello Kitty are some of the balloons appearing in different versions.  The winner is Snoopy.  Charlie Brown’s pet beagle has had seven different balloons in the parade- a record set in 2013.  A few interesting facts related to these balloons.  During World War II the balloons were given to the military to use- over 650 lbs of rubber!  Macy’s is the largest helium consumer after the US Government.  When a shortage occurred in 1958 the balloons were filled with air and moved through the streets on cranes.

Macys 3Aside from those incredible balloons, how did the parade grow into the global event it is today?  The parades of the 20s were watched by hundreds of thousands of people on the streets of New York.  It has been held every year since 1924 with the only break from 1942-1944 for World War II due to restrictions on fuel, rubber, and helium.  The awareness of the parade grew first from the radio broadcasts of the action.  Yes.  Radio! The parade was broadcast live on radio from 1932-1951.  The first television broadcast of the parade was an experiment in 1939.  Local tv broadcasts started in 1946 and national broadcasts followed in 1947. That year was the same year the parade got lots of attention from the movie Miracle on 34th Street.  The film used filmed scenes from the actual parade the year before.  NBC became the exclusive television broadcaster of the parade in 1952 with the name of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  Color broadcasts became the norm in 1960.  NBC has been that exclusive broadcaster for the last 62 years, winning 12 Emmy awards since 1979.  Since the parade is in public other broadcasters can set-up shop and show the parade too.  CBS shows the parade too with the name The Thanksgiving Day Parade on CBS.  You can also catch it on local channels in the New York area and even streaming online.  The three-hour spectacle has become a focal point to officially begin the holiday season.  As we say in my family- “we can’t start our Christmas until Santa gets here”.

So make your plans now to include the parade as part of your holiday plans in 2014.  Tune in 9:00 AM, Thursday, November 27, 2014 on NBC.  Book a hotel and go in person maybe.  Until then find out more about the parade, play games, and shop at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade official website.  You have 308 days to wait for THE kick-off to the holiday season!

Baby, It’s Cold Outside–No Kidding!

snowflakeOn this cold, cold day, I thought it was appropriate to re-visit the Christmas statistics from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  Each year, they release Christmas weather statistics for the meteorologically curious.  Outside, this morning, it was a mere 1 degree.  How does that compare to recent Christmases?

In Baltimore, the coldest Christmas on record was within this lifetime–1983 with 3 degrees outside.   The second coldest was 1872 when it was 5 degrees.  In contrast, in 1964, it was a crazy 72 degrees.  Hard to imagine wearing shorts on Christmas when we’re all bundled up inside today.  According to the Farmers’ Almanac, the 1980’s were some of the coldest Christmases on record.

I prefer the Norman Rockwell snowy version of Christmas, even though we’ve seen only a few in the past 50 years, with over 5 inches on snow in 1962 and a little over 4 inches in 1969.

What to do?  Stay inside and keep busy preparing for Christmases yet to come.

  • Start a $5 jar for next year.
  • Try out a Christmas cookie recipe for 2014.
  • Crush your 2013 candy canes and make peppermint hot chocolate or peppermint bark.
  • Put away your Christmas decorations?  (Not yet!  I have to wait a little longer!)
  • Cut up your Christmas cards into gift tags for 2014.

Send your ideas to The Yule Log!

O Holy Night- Another Christmas Music Post!

Snowy Holy NightHappy 2014!  I am excited to be writing my first post in the new year.  I’ve been trying to come up with an organizational plan for my weekly posts.  I work much better if I have a plan, or perhaps theme, to guide my actions.  So for my first Thursday post each month I am going to focus on music!  No better place to start than with my absolute favorite Christmas song of all time- O Holy Night.  This song has been at the top of all my lists for years.  It is musically sound and even the worst versions can still prove somewhat enjoyable.  But when it’s good, O yeah!

The song originates in France.  It was written by Adolphe Adam in 1847  for the poem Minuit, Chretiens (Midnight, Christians).  The first performance was in a small french church to celebrate the repair of the organ.  The first singer was a well-known opera singer of the day.  The topic of the poem, and thus the song, is the birth of the savior and our redemption as man.  Check out the opening verse and chorus:

O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Saviour’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Til He appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! O hear the angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born;
O night divine, O night, O night Divine.
 

St P crecheThe song has always had great success over the last 150+ years.  It has been recorded by world renown singers, bands, choirs, and orchestras.  It is part of many small church repertoire for the holidays.  Notably it is part of history as well.  In 1906 it was the first live performance on the new AM radio program.  That first broadcast version featured voice and violin.  It is truly timeless.  A recording made in 1916 is still being sold today!

One of the things I resolve to do with Christmas music this year is to find new versions of songs I love.  For O Holy Night I discovered a great version through a post on a friend’s Facebook page with a recording of Auld Lang Syne.  It featured three singers from the Broadway show Spider-man singing acapella.  I went a little further with some Youtube searching and discovered the had a recording of O Holy Night.  Not just their version, a great version.  Give it a listen-

This is my new go to favorite for this tune.  (Bonus is that one of the three guys is a JMU alum- Go Dukes!)   As I sit here watching the snow fall on a cold winter night it definitely fills me with the spirit of Christmas!

Clove Orange Pomander

photo (51)We had a snow day today, so I was able to do more Christmas preparation than usual.  At the grocery store, we bought oranges and cloves so that I could make some clove orange pomanders to celebrate the season.

Clove orange pomanders have a long history back to the Middle Ages, when people carried pomanders made of silver, gold, wood, or other material, enclosing a mixture of spices, the scent of which would ward off unhealthy odors and illness.  A woman might wear this item on her waist, suspended by a chain.  There’s an excellent website that illustrates types of pomanders  during the Medieval and Renaissance periods.

By Jane Austen’s time and during the Victorian Era, exchanging clove oranges became customary during Christmas and the New Year.  This website discusses the historical significance and gives excellent directions for making them at home.

The Wartski family firm in London sells fine jewelry and objets d’art.  They have several beautiful examples of pomanders, including a silver segmented one that is so beautiful (and, probably, so valuable).  This 1547 painting is featured on an antique jewelry website.   I wonder if I could begin a collection of pomanders–I should stick to oranges (although cloves can be an expensive purchase).   250px-Pomander

A word of caution.  My oranges need ribbon and more cloves.  I think I should have used smaller oranges with rinds that were not quite as thick.  I wound up with Band-aids on both thumbs because whole cloves are sharp, and it takes a little effort to pierce the rind of the orange.  Also, if I had used ribbon first, I would have had a natural line to follow.  My patterns leave a lot to be desired.

One year L’Occitane en Provence sold a clove-orange scent in candles, lotions and hand cream.  It must have been a holiday scent because I was given the shea cream as a gift, and when I went to the store to buy more, the scent was discontinued.  If you know of somewhere else that sells this particular scent, let me know!  For me, the smell of clove oranges and Christmas are tied together.

So much of life is in small things

So much of life is contained in small things.  What holds meaning for you?

Each week, The Washington Post Magazine publishes a column featuring small essays about items that are important to us.  This week’s column was a beautiful reflection on a religious medal that the author’s family carried through several generations.

photo (50)As I baked our annual candy cane cookies and packed them away in the Ward Paradise Fruit Cake tin, I realized that Christmas is all about the items of significance—the ornament, the wreath, the candle or nativity set.  It’s easy to go to the store and buy everything at once, but it’s collecting the old, small, hand-made or important over time that makes Christmas. When my parents give us “heritage” gifts, these special items beat a store-bought presents any day.

I don’t know when I became the keeper of this tin that my mom used to pack away cherry winks, snowballs, and other Christmas cookies.  I suspect I appropriated it one year in my young mother days and didn’t give it back.

This Ward Baking Co. tin was designed to hold a fruit cake, and my quick research reveals its from the 1920’s.  My mother thinks that the tin was manufactured by the Continental Can Company, where my Aunt Pauline worked for most of her life.  Pauline may have given it to my mom in some ordinary transaction, like taking home leftovers in Tupperware.  I don’t know.  Ward Baking Company, I learned,  became the largest bread distributor in the country, the baker of Wonder enriched bread products and the maker of Hostess Twinkies.

Chances are the beautiful tin with the birds of paradise on the top may have been an ordinary object for many in the mid-1900’s, but it’s bruised and scratched surface is made more beautiful now to me by years of use and Christmas memories.

Jacquie Lawson Edwardian Christmas Calendar

Edwardian houseOn December 1, we can begin marking the last days frenzied days to Christmas 2013.  Most of us have one (or more) Advent calendar, and we start opening doors, finding treats, hanging ornaments or whatever we do to mark each day.

At our house, we’re still using the same felt calendar that my friend Donna and I made when our boys were four or five.  I have a second, more elaborate, woodland house from my sister, Barbara.  In each door, tree or window, there is a small woodland creature.

Last night my friend Gini showed me the best computer Advent calendar, a Jacquie Lawson Edwardian Christmas calendar.  For a small fee (less than a standard Hallmark card), I purchased the animated calendar. Each day, I will watch the family in an English country house prepare for their Christmas.  The setting is very much like Downton Abbey, with both the upstairs and below-stairs members of the household.  On December 1, we were introduced to the family dogs and cat.  I looked around the house and found puzzles and games, other animated curiosities, and, in the library, numbered books that elaborated a little more on the customs of the early 1900’s.  I imagine that people of all ages can enjoy something in this animated wonderland.

I sent the calendar (for another small fee) to three of my friends, and I hope they enjoy it as much as I do.  I was a little worried about downloading the file, but that went smoothly.  One small drawback is that the calendar does not work on iPhones or iPads.

The snow globe icon is on my desktop, so I’m reminded of the joys of the season while I am working!

Lawson and her small team of employees work out of a village in England creating e-cards. There is a second Advent calendar, the Alpine Village, that is also available.

(If you are visiting our blog today, you can see that the snow is falling across the page!  I love that widget.)

Happy Independence Day America!

Stars and StripesAs we all wrap-up our days of friends, family, food and fireworks Christmas is likely not on your mind.  It certainly wasn’t on mine.  I just wanted to get a nice cool drink and some aloe.  I did flip on the tv and caught a little coverage of the National Symphony performance on the Mall in Washington.  They were wrapping up the show with a performance of Stars and Stripes Forever, the most well-recognized of all the Sousa marches.   The song was officially named our National March by Congress.  I like Sousa but there are two things that always drive me nuts when it is performed.  First the way people like to clap, but can never keep a steady tempo and second, when the sing lyrics to the march.  The second was in full effect and lead me to search to find out where those words originated and why they were added to the song.  I was surprised to find a Christmas connection to Stars and Stripes Forever!

John Philip Sousa was in Europe on holiday with his wife in 1896.  He received word that his long-time friend and manager of the Sousa Band, David Bakely, had died suddenly.  Sousa boarded a boat to rush home to handle the affairs of the band.  It was on the ship back to the States that Sousa imagined the entire musical composition.  It was on Christmas Day!  He created it all in his mind and committed it to memory, not putting  it on paper until he arrived in port.

The inspiration that came to Sousa on that Christmas Day in 1896 is celebrated by all Americans each July Fourth.  How thankful we all are for this amazing Christmas gift from the March King!  (oh and fyi- it was Sousa himself who penned the lyrics)

Take a listen to an early 1911 recording by Sousa’s Band.