Another Perspective: Reflections on Thanksgiving Eve on the UWS 2020

Thanksgiving, 2003, the writer and her children.

By Lisa Kava

I have been lucky enough to live right in the center of the excitement, or mayhem, of Thanksgiving festivities on the Upper West Side for 20 years. But there will be no Thanksgiving balloon inflation and no Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in my neighborhood this year. Another event canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which constantly hovers over our lives. The parade will be in front of Macy’s this year and virtual for spectators. And I have been trying to figure out how I feel about it all.

When my college-aged children were young, we eagerly anticipated the annual balloon inflation event which occurred on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. My son and daughter watched wide eyed as the enormous balloons came to life. It felt celebratory and thrilling, all of this right in our backyard. It was also a precursor to our extended family Thanksgiving celebration the next day.

The marching bands would begin to rehearse in the deepest hours of the night leading up to Thanksgiving. My family would be awakened by loud music beginning sometime around 3 a.m. and continuing until dawn. Outside of our window, Central Park West was aglow with bright lights.

On Thanksgiving morning, the floats would line up in the street directly in front of our building. Many years ago, when there were no street barricades, my children would jump onto the floats as they waited for the parade to start.

Then slowly, the event grew larger and the crowds became overwhelming. The balloon inflation event seemed to start earlier each year and our residential neighborhood began to feel like a zoo, at least to me. In recent years, the crowds grew so large that many blocks were closed off and it seemed impossible to navigate the sidewalk in front of my building. I could barely emerge from my lobby to walk my dog on those Wednesday afternoons and evenings without walking directly into an enormous crowd.

My son and daughter, now young adults, were unfazed by these changes. I on the other hand often felt like The Grinch. I told my husband we should leave the city for this holiday in order to avoid the crowds and get some sleep. But I didn’t really mean it. There was something special, something indescribable about it all. I wanted to be away from my neighborhood, but at the same time I simply could not imagine being anywhere else in the world.

Shortly after 9 a.m., when the parade started and the floats moved south, a sense of calm took over Central Park West in the 80’s. It was a stark contrast to what was going on just moments before. I would breathe a sigh of relief as the crowds dissipated. The street was suddenly strangely empty, lined with confetti and the occasional balloon stuck high in a tree.

This year, Thanksgiving on the Upper West Side will not exist in the form it has in years past. Add it to the long list of what has been lost over the past nine months. I waver between relief and sadness. I will be able to walk in my neighborhood free of crowds. But I don’t see how it can feel like Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving, 2019, the “children.”

These are strange times. I try my best to focus on what has been gained rather than what has been lost. I appreciate the Upper West Side now more than ever; a walk in Central Park with friends and dogs on a gorgeous fall day when yellow leaves are set against the bright blue sky like a painting, the liveliness of Columbus Avenue, the shops and restaurants that have not closed. I am grateful for each day that my son and daughter have been able to spend on their college campuses. I am thankful that my family has remained healthy throughout this ordeal.

I wonder if next year at this time I will have a new appreciation for what I hope will be the return of chaos to my neighborhood on Thanksgiving Eve. I am pretty sure I will miss it terribly tonight.

COLUMNS | 9 comments | permalink
    1. Deri says:

      I am definitely NOT a parade person, but there is something special about living in the middle of the premiere parade of the country. My favorite part (years ago, no longer happens): being woken up by the bells on Santa’s sleigh around 1am Thursday morning, as the last of the floats head up Amsterdam to get in place.

    2. Ruth Bernstein says:

      I hope you enjoyed the one block parade,
      another Miracle on 34th Street! Hopefully,
      chaos will return in 2021 and we can all
      celebrate normally. Stay safe and well.

    3. Sari says:

      I lived at the start of the parade route for 46 years. I can’t believe that it’s not the same this year but I am ever hopeful that the true tradition will return in 2021.

    4. David says:

      I’m a balloon handler in the parade. I had made the final cut of 1500. I was supposed to have my Covid-19 testt at the Javits Center on Wednesday. Everything changed last week and most of the remaining balloons were eliminated. Would have been my 9th parade. I really didn’t watch the parade this morning. Next year……🎈
      Have a Wonderful Thanksgiving.

    5. Debbe says:

      This is a beautifully written and felt piece. Thanks so much to the writer and for sharing the pictures of her beautiful kids, whose little faces in the first photo are the same faces we see in the college age “kids” at the end. Cause really, isn’t it all about the kids and the continuity of family traditions and the representation they offer to us of Hope and Thanks, offered during this very American Holiday. Nothing excludes a person during this celebration based on religion, or age, or gender, or politics. After all of the divisive rhetoric we’ve all engaged in, myself included, over the last four years, let’s give Thanks and Hope that we will all move forward towards a better, healthier future. This article reminds me why I love and have lived and raised my family, too, here on the Upper West Side. Thanks again, Lisa.

    6. Alan Oppenheim says:

      Very well put. Thank you.

    7. I totally agree… the parade is a love / hate relationship. Not having left a hole in my heart. BYE BYE 2020… I can’t wait fir next year.

    8. Lenore says:

      A story from the 1970s—my then-partner and I were in a taxi on the night before thanksgiving going up CPW and I noticed some folks on the street in the 70s as we drove by—something was happening. Oh! They are blowing up the balloons! I still have that image of the street in mind, how much changed there over the years.

      Yesterday I watched about five minutes—a float came by sponsored by Sinclair Oil and the announcer talked not about the float but about their gas stations. Silly me, I didn’t even know that floats are sponsored by corporations.

      Thank you so much for these wonderful reflections and the linked photos!