Spending Thanksgiving in New York

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If you are lucky enough to find yourself in New York on the last Thursday in November, prepare yourself for a day like no other. Thanksgiving in America is the most celebrated holiday of the year, with families and friends coming together to share a meal and enjoy each others’ company like no other holiday and New York plays host to the most famous event of the day, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

VisitingNEwYork.com.au recommends making a reservation if you plan on eating out or in your hotel restaurant for Thanksgiving dinner

Thanksgiving in America draws its roots from 1621 when a celebration at Plymouth (now Massachusetts) was ordered by then Governor William Bradford to celebrate the first successful harvest and for the settlers to share their crops with the local native American Indian tribes and “give thanks” for their help when they arrived the winter previously from England.

Thanksgiving did not become an official national holiday until 1863 when during the Civil War President Abraham Lincoln issued a presidential proclamation declaring that all states would observe Thanksgiving on the Fourth Thursday in November. Further to Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation, the 41st President, George H. W. Bush introduced for the first time in 1989 the Pardoning of a Turkey to ensure that it lived a long life on a farm, rather than ending up on some families dinner table, which has become a modern tradition.

President George HW Bush pardoning a Turkey. Credit: NY Daily News

The main meal of the day is dinner and is enjoyed by families and groups of friends who come together to give thanks for their good fortunes over the past year and normally includes a Turkey, which is normally roasted or baked. Other important foods also celebrated on Thanksgiving include mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce and sweet corn. For dessert a Thanksgiving Dinner is not complete without a Pumpkin Pie.

Most hotel restaurants will put on a special Thanksgiving Day menu for its guests with all the normal Thanksgiving Day trappings. Alternatively a number of New York restaurants will also adopt special Thanksgiving menus for the day, it is also a very busy day for restaurants in New York and VisitingNewYork.com.au recommends making a reservation if you plan on eating out or in your hotel restaurant for Thanksgiving dinner.

Thanksgiving recommendations for New York

The day of Thanksgiving is generally dominated by two major events, Thanksgiving (American) Football and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York.

American Football

Thanksgiving Day Football  is one of the premiere games of football on the NFL calendar featuring a triple header of games starting in the morning and going into the evening featuring match-ups of some of the biggest rivalries in the sport.

For some the best part of the Thanksgiving Day festivities is the chance to watch the Thanksgiving Day Parade either in person in New York or to watch it live anywhere in America on NBC. This year will see the Detroit Lions host the Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys host the Carolina Panthers and the last game of the day will see the Chicago Bears visit the Green Bay Packers.

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York

Since 1924 employee’s of Macy’s department store have participated in the Thanksgiving Day parade which takes place on the streets on Manhattan starting in the Upper West Side and making its way through Midtown and ending at Macy’s flagship store in Herald Square.

It was in 1924 that many of store’s employees were first generation immigrants to America and wanted to express their pride in their new American heritage in a manner that their parents had previously done so in continental Europe. The parade actually started across the Hudson River in New Jersey, however was transferred to New York to finish at the company’s famed Herald Square flagship store.

In its early days the parade resembled what you would normally expect from a parade with store employees marching with pride to show off their heritage. Nowadays however one of the biggest attractions of spectators to the parade is the balloons which accompany the parade and the floats which are created especially for the day. Some of the more famous balloons of recent years include Snoopy, The Wizard of Oz, Thomas the Tank Engine, Paddington Bear, Pappa Smurf and the Red Power Ranger

In addition to the famous balloons, the parade also features balloonicles (a balloon attached to a vehicle), floats, marching bands, clowns, performance groups and other performers.

The parade starts at 9am and generally lasts about 3 hours.

The route of the Thanksgiving Day Parade

The parade starts at the intersection of 77th Street and Central Park West and makes it way down Central Park West until Columbus Circle. At Columbus Circle the parade makes its way east along 59th Street before heading south down 6th Avenue. The parade continues along 6th Avenue until 34th Street where it turns west for the final stretch to Macy’s flagship store on 34th Street.

Route of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade through Manhattan

Best places to watch the parade

VisitingNewYork.com.au recommends getting in early and getting a spot on the West side of Central Park West anywhere between 77th Street and Columbus Circle. You will see all the entrants of the parade and still the majority of your morning to do other things on Thanksgiving. The parade will have mostly passed through the Upper West Side by 10:30am, but be warned that other parade goers do start to get their places from 6am.

There are no reserved spaces available to the public for the parade so if someone tries to sell you tickets do not buy them

Little known fact:

You can actually watch the balloons being inflated the night before the parade. If you are busy on Thanksgiving, or not a fan of crowds you can watch the balloons being inflated at the Museum of Natural History at the corner of 79th Street and Columbus Avenue in the Upper West Side.

Take in a movie

Apart from enjoying a great meal or watching the parade you can also enjoy another Thanksgiving tradition and that is to watch one of multiple new blockbuster movies which are launched to coincide with the Thanksgiving Day weekend. Movie theatres and cinema complexes across New York have special showings across the holiday weekend and often have themed marathons to entice people to enjoy a movie on the long weekend.

IFC Center cinemas in Greenwich Village

Black Friday Sales

Similar to the Boxing Day Sales in Australia America has its own version known as Black Friday, which officially marks the start of the Holiday pricing in New York across tours, attractions and most importantly shopping. In recent years and the decline in consumer spending Black Friday has been a huge event for struggling major American retailers offering huge in-store and online discounts across a massive range of goods. So if you have spent Thanksgiving Day at the parade or watching it on TV in your New York hotel room and feel your credit card burning a bit of a hole in your pocket, Black Friday sales will give you that much needed jolt of retail therapy – just watch out for the crowds.

Busiest travel weekend of the year

If you find yourself travelling on the Wednesday evening (before Thanksgiving Day) or on the following Sunday be prepared for massive crowds across airports, at train stations and bus terminals. Students, tourists and everyone in between make their way home or get away for a long weekend (particularly to snow fields across America) on what is easily America’s busiest travel weekend. If you are heading for any of New York’s 3 airports VisitingNewYork.com.au recommends getting there even earlier than you normally would (minimum 3 hours for a domestic flight) to ensure you have enough time to check-in any bags you may have and to clear security.

Crowds at JFK Airport terminal 7

Thanksgiving in New York is amazing, it is a wonderful celebration that brings together family, friends and as you will quickly find out even strangers becomes friends even quicker at this time of year.

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