After wrapping an interview in downtown Northville two Novembers ago, I was surprised to find that the lot I had parked in was blocked off. Turns out, the annual Holiday Lighted Parade was in full motion. I was annoyed: Attending a surprise parade alone was not how I envisioned spending my Friday evening. And parades, well, suck — right? But as the procession went on — fire trucks decked out in lights, kids happily marching with their after-school clubs, and homemade floats — I began to feel like the Grinch when his heart grew three sizes in one day.
For cynics like me, there are many reasons to dislike parades and any event that garners a lot of hype for that matter. Let’s take a typical Thanksgiving parade, for example. For one, they’re crowded. You’re lucky if the weather is a “comfortable” 20 degrees. Seating can be limited to a curb, lawn chairs — given you have the foresight to bring one and enough space to unfold it — or a potential spot on a grandstand. More seriously, the parades that draw hundreds of thousands of people and, in some cases millions, are bound to create an alarming amount of pollution based on the vehicular and foot traffic alone.
But the most jarring blow in my opinion, is that parades are incredibly unoriginal. There are the marching bands, the clowns, cheerleaders, people throwing candy, the business owners driving vintage cars, the huge character balloons, and, of course, a Santa Claus cameo — what would a Thanksgiving parade be without ushering in a holiday that’s still a month away? (Sure, retailers are already selling Christmas lights and faux trees at this point but again — this cynic, prefers to think about her holiday shopping in December.)
It’s the same song and dance every year. Yet we keep going back: Last year, America’s Thanksgiving Parade reportedly drew hundreds of thousands of people to downtown Detroit, and it was named the No. 1 holiday parade in the country by USA Today. Even my closest acquaintances, whom I fully support, will surely be among the 50 million viewers tuning into the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on the morning of Nov. 28. Partly, I think this is because parades, especially ones as grand as the Thanksgiving parades occurring across the country, seem to tap into emotions so primal and pure that we can’t help but ooh and aah, clapping from the sidelines, our eyes lighting up as we shiver beneath puffy winter coats.
They’re predictable, but parades still offer a chance at community building, connectedness, and wholesome fun that taps into child-like amazement and an appreciation of whimsy that still exists in all of us. In a time like now — when the news moves fast, our phones have become our lifelines, and spending quality time with loved ones can sometimes be an afterthought — it’s comforting to pause for a moment and take a break from our reality and divulge in the theatrics.
But, ultimately, when it comes to why people bundle up in layers and head out before sunrise to see the extra-large Captain Underpants character balloon — a fictional man wearing only briefs and a cape — float down Woodward Avenue, it’s perhaps because as overhyped and expected as they may be, parades are really cool. Even when we think we’re too cool for them.
Will you marvel at the character balloons this year? Share your thoughts with us below and at firstname.lastname@example.org