When I was a child growing up outside of New York City, Thanksgiving morning always began by watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. A few days before or after the holiday, my mother would take me on a pilgrimage to Herald Square where we would eat hot corned beef and pastrami sandwiches at the Carving Board restaurant on the eight floor of Macy’s department store. Then we would head north on 6th Avenue to see the Rockettes high-kick in the Christmas show at Radio City Music Hall.
I attended the Macy’s parade in person only once — and let me tell you, you can see a lot more of it on TV than being a speck in the throng on those wind-blown mid-Manhattan streets. Still, taking it in each year on the TV has remained a lifelong tradition. This year impressed me as one of the best ever — and not just because Lea Michele, who plays Fanny Brice in the Broadway revival of “Funny Girl,” kicked off the festivities with “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” one of my favorite songs from one of my most loved musicals. (By the way, Michele deserves hearty praise for singing so robustly after finishing a second performance of the show at 11 p.m. the previous night and suffering from a head cold!).
What struck me the most, though, was the beautiful diversity in this year’s event. It is as though the parade finally has caught up with the intricate racial, ethnic and spiritual tapestry that makes up the true America.
There was a float featuring the Wampanoag indigenous people; a musical group composed of all LGBTQ members; and the nation’s only all-female competitive marching band. A Mariachi marching band and traditional Mexican dancers from Xalapa, Veracruz reflected the ties between our nation and its citizens of Latin American origin.
I can’t remember ever seeing so many African American dancers among the Radio City Rockettes, as well as Asian Americans. There is still room for a lot more diversity but it was a welcome change from the all-white dance lines I recall from my childhood.
Sadly there are those among our fellow citizens who promote an idea of the U.S. as a white, Christian nation. Yes, the U.S. includes white people and Christians, but they are but a part of the elaborate weaving of races, religions and cultures that makes our nation so vibrant, interesting and unique.
I remember walking along the Avenue of the Americas as a child and encountering women wearing saris, men wearing turbans, children speaking Spanish and Caribbean dialects. It inspired a lifelong interest in me to learn about different cultures — not only appreciating those differences, but celebrating them.
With so much in my life to be thankful for, I praise the American ingenuity that is able to create balloons that tower four stories high and stretch 100 feet wide and then parade them along narrow Manhattan streets. That is able to organize an extravaganza of 28 floats, 40 inflatables, 12 marching bands, 10 performance groups, 700 clowns and one Santa — without a seeming glitch.
I am especially grateful, though, to have been born in a country that is home to so many diverse peoples, all of whom have something distinctive of value to share.
This holiday season, can we be especially mindful of the beauty we share in diversity? How can we show our appreciation?