Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thanksgiving in Detroit

Long before I was born a Thanksgiving Day tradition was started in Detroit. That tradition was a parade. The first parade was put together in 1924 and there has been one on the streets of Detroit every year since except for 1943 and 1944 when it was suspended because of a materials shortage due to WWII.

In the early years, the Thanksgiving Day parade was sponsored by Detroit's J. L. Hudson department store. It was first broadcast on radio in 1931 and on television it's been carried nationally since 1959. Every year there are common elements... floats, marching bands, clowns, and Santa Claus. And each year there are changes to  the floats and marching bands. Big balloons and paper mache heads were added also.

J.L. Hudson sponsored the parade until 1979 when it was handed over to the Detroit Renaissance Foundation. They then handed it over to the Michigan Thanksgiving Parade Foundation in 1983. It is put on every year with help from many generous corporate sponsors and more than 4,000 volunteers. The warehouse where the floats and costumes are stored gives tours throughout the year.

The parade route has changed a few times over the years. I believe it has always had Woodward Avenue as a part of its route. I know that some of my grand aunts and uncles attended the parade because I've see their photographs of the parade in family photo albums. I believe many of my cousins have attended the parade in person too.  I went to the parade for the first time on Thanksgiving of 1973 and didn't attend in person again until this year, 2011. But I've watched it on TV every year as far back as I can remember.

As a child, I used to look forward to watching the Thanksgiving parade on TV. At the end of the parade Santa Claus was greeted by the mayor of the city and presented with "the key to the hearts of the children of Detroit". This marked the official beginning of the Christmas season, my favorite time of the year! Children all throughout the city and the metro Detroit area knew that starting then you had to "be nice" or Santa wouldn't bring you what you wanted for Christmas.

When I was a child, you never saw Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving! Not on houses, not in stores, and there was no Christmas music played on the radio yet either.

I can remember my mom cooking in the kitchen on Thanksgiving morning and popping into the living room (the only room in the house that had a television) to check on the parade. I still remember the smell of her sauteing onions, celery, and green peppers for the stuffing... what a wonderful scent! Mom would play up my excitement with questions like, "Any sign of Santa yet?", "Did you count the marching bands? How many so far?", or my favorite comment, "Let me know when you see Santa. I don't want to miss him!" And sure enough, when I called out to her to announce Santa, she'd come running. We'd always judge how good a Santa he was, if he looked real or fake, and if he had a friendly face.

My dad and brothers weren't into the parade or Santa. I don't remember them ever watching the parade with me or being a part of my parade experience.

Just about the time the parade was over (about 11am), mom would pop the turkey in the oven. She'd have stuffed it with her traditional sage stuffing, using a recipe from her Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. Then she'd take a break from the work in the kitchen and we'd look through the 3" thick stack of sale ads that always came in the Thanksgiving Day edition of the Detroit News (which we had home delivered). Oh how I loved looking at all the toys in those ads!

In the afternoon I'd "help" my mom in the kitchen. I didn't do much, really, but she'd find something for my little hands to work at. Our Thanksgiving dinner consisted of turkey, stuffing, gravy (made from scratch, of course) with mushrooms, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, dinner rolls, and cranberries in the form of canned Ocean Spray Jellied Cranberry Sauce. After smelling that turkey cooking all afternoon we all came to the table with our mouths watering. Mom was a really good cook and the food was always fantastic. For dessert she always made pumpkin chiffon pies with made-from-scratch whipped cream in the shape of snowflakes on the top. Oh man, my mouth is watering just thinking about those dinners!

Sadly, I have no pictures to share with you from my first visit to the parade in 1973. I know I took some photos but I have no idea what happened to them. I do, however, have a few photos to share with you from this year's "America's Thanksgiving Parade" as it is now known. I only stayed for half the parade but when I got home I turned on the TV and watched the second half. I think mom would have loved this year's Santa. I think he looks great! What do you think?

The crowd cheered as the parade began.
The first balloon this year was a new one, Kermit the Frog.
Lots of clowns!
Horses are always a crowd favorite.
These uni-cyclists got lots of oohs and ahhs.
Local marching band.
More happy clown faces.
It wouldn't be an all-American parade without Uncle Sam.
New float this year, from Art Van Furniture. The biggest ever!
Here he is, the jolly ole man himself!