My parents are creatures of habit, especially when it comes to Christmas; and so, preparations for this annual holiday haven’t altered much over the years. A month before the big day, Dad takes out a ladder to string up candy-colored lights above the garage door. He also sets up a standing Santa next to our milk box, while Mom wraps a set of tiny white lights around three round bushes in our front yard. Next, we peruse local roadside sellers to pick out a freshly cut 6-foot evergreen. Then, my mom and I spend one night setting up her collection of miniature Department 56 lighted houses, and decorate the tree with fragile mementos we only get to see once a year. On Christmas Day, we open presents under the tree in our pajamas before getting dressed and heading to a big family eat-a-thon with a car full of presents, homemade mashed potatoes, sweet yams, turkey and gravy.
But one of our earliest glimpses of Christmas starts on Thanksgiving Day. When most Americans are up and at ‘em to get a turkey in the oven, we are already halfway to New York City for the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Like a heist, we follow a foolproof master plan (perfected over the years) that the most meticulous of thieves would be proud of. We’re all up by 6am, in the car by 6.30am, and in uptown Manhattan before 7.30am. My dad and I head off to see the parade, while my mom drives back to check on the turkey (since finding parking is out of the question anyways) and returns to pick us up afterward. Following this morning routine is crucial for securing a spot in a crowd of 3 million – an impossible feat once 7.45am hits. Equipped with lawn chairs, a thermos of hot chocolate, and some blankets, Dad and I are armed and ready for the cold – even if it is accompanied by rain, snow and sleet.
Most New Yorkers, including us, steer clear of Times Square on New Year’s Eve and of Greenwich Village’s Halloween parade, but we are committed to seeing the Thanksgiving Parade come to life. Year after year on Thanksgiving morning, my dad and I wave at celebrities atop their floats (even if we don’t know who they are), clap on (and off) beat with marching bands, cheer on policemen riding horses and the pick-up guy who follows (also a tradition), and admire 90-foot inflated balloons guided by armies of volunteers. The line-up is different each year, but spectators can always count on seeing Santa Claus as the last act. Just as Santa has been the finale since the parade began in 1924, my dad and I have been crowd fixtures since I was 4.
Each family has their own special traditions to celebrate the holidays, and living in Beijing shouldn’t alter that. Get into the festive swing of things with this month’s feature on where to purchase decorations – from a tree to a turkey to trimmings – and gifts. Plus, hear from three families as they prepare for Christmas and Hanukkah in the capital. Also, find out how to support five charities that care for underprivileged children in China.
Recently, we’ve started bringing my little cousins along to see the parade, but I’m not sure they are completely sold on the idea of freezing like popsicles for over four hours. Despite my age, I am still eager to attend – perhaps, because I haven’t outgrown spending time with Dad.