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Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is very Christian — but it’s had its Jewish moments

A deflating dreidel balloon and other tales from the parade route

Macy’s has strong Jewish connections. It built its flagship Herald Square store on land once home to B’nai Jeshurun synagogue. Jewish brothers Nathan and Isidor Strauss bought the company in 1896. 

But Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, started by the store in 1924 to kick off the Christmas shopping season, has always been a Christian pageant. Marching bands play Christmas songs. Floats and balloons have included singing Christmas trees, the Grinch and reindeer. Santa always brings up the rear.

Still, the parade has had its Jewish moments. Here are two — plus that time when Israelis believed they could get a Macy’s parade of their own.

The parade, as it is every year, will be broadcast live on Thanksgiving.

The ill-fated dreidel ‘balloonicle’

In honor of the rare convergence of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving in 2013, the parade debuted a dreidel-shaped balloon, but not the kind on long ropes that floats above the streets. It sat on a bed of gelt, and underneath it all was a motorized vehicle — Macy’s calls it a “balloonicle.”

But somewhere along Central Park West, the dreidel began to deflate, and its support team had to sideline it for repairs, according to a fan website devoted to the parade’s balloons. Re-inflated, it managed to catch up to its proper position in front of the Smurf Mushroom House float.

The balloonicle’s last reported sighting, according to the same fan page, was in the Macy’s parade warehouse.

Santa’s illicit helpers

 

Daniel Lobell walking in the 2013 parade Courtesy of Kylie and Daniel Lobell

Daniel Lobell had missed only two of the parades in his 31 years — once when he was just born and the other when he was in Israel. In 2013, he wrote in an essay for the Jewish Journal, he almost missed another one, arriving so late he found all the streets that accessed the parade route had been blocked off.

But then he saw a police officer stand aside for a couple who declared that they lived on one of those streets. “We live on this block too!” Lobell shouted to the officer. It worked, and he decided to push the chutzpah a bit further.

A panel from Daniel Lobell’s comic. Courtesy of Daniel Lobell

Instead of watching the parade, Lobell and his wife Kylie joined it. The Jewish couple fell in step in front of Santa’s float, and began waving to the crowd.

The Lobells escorted Santa for 20 blocks before one of his toy soldiers exposed them, noting their lack of official parade badges — and likely their comparatively drab outfits. A police officer kicked them off the route, but not before she agreed to take a picture of the two, so they could prove it happened.

Lobell, a comedian, then wrote a comic about it.

 

The Macy’s Jerusalem parade — not

The Israel press breathlessly reported in 2018 that in association with the famed Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in New York, a similar parade would proceed through the streets of Jerusalem. The producer of the New York event would fly in to supervise, along with several giant balloons from the Macy’s collection.

Israelis wondered if a 50-foot-tall Snoopy or Spider-Man would float above the cobblestones.

There would be a parade, on Dec. 3, called “Together: Marching with World Jewry.” Sponsored by the Diaspora Affairs Ministry and other government agencies, it was meant to encourage solidarity amid rising antisemitism and after the murder of 11 congregants earlier that year at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.

But the ministry was forced to dash expectations it had mistakenly raised about Macy’s involvement. There would be none.

“Macy’s denies Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons heading to Jerusalem,” read the headline on the Jerusalem Post story debunking its original one. Or as the Times of Israel put it: “Deflating hopes, Jerusalem parade to be ‘in spirit of Macy’s.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story mistakenly identified Rachel Green, the character from the sitcom Friends, as a Macy’s employee on the show.

Got a Jewish story about the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade? Let us know.

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