Several years ago, I wrote about seeing live (almost) Philadelphia’s Thanksgiving Day Parade while my wife was visiting her sister in St. Louis. I say “almost” because the parade started way earlier than I expected, and all I saw was the tail end.
But that was years ago, and today, I tuned into the TV coverage to see if anything had changed.
It hadn’t, and was just more of the same: professional entertainers performing in front of the Art Museum for a TV audience. The live audience in the bleachers saw the backs of the entertainers; those lining the parade route saw the backstage preparations. Even on TV, we only saw a lot of lip-syncing and barely-disguised ads for theater shows and resorts by has-been and not-yet-famous entertainers.
Giving thanks and reflecting on the joys of life got a lot of lip-service, but was not supported by the “look at me!” entertainment.
There were several high school bands brought in from almost-bankrupt states that could not afford to show them in their own areas. I suspect the band member’s families were asked to pay the freight with lots of fund-raisers all summer long.
One balloon was a giant mouse named “Fiddlesticks.” They claimed he represents the mice who help Santa fill the stockings (what happened to the Elves?) If my wife saw mice scampering over the stockings on Christmas Eve, that would end any celebrations at our house. She finds nothing cute about mice.
But the change I immediately noticed was that the parade is now politically correct. The opening marchers, all dressed up as Pilgrims, gave no hint that the Pilgrims were a religious group—they were only shown as people who dressed funny and wore funny hats. But the parade did show black Pilgrims and even a mobility-challenged lady Pilgrim in a modern wheelchair. No Asians or Hispanics that I could see, but maybe next year.
Mrs. Claus got equal billing with Santa, himself. No Native Americans were shown, I assume because Philadelphia has none, and heaven forbid anyone else would masquerade as one. The parade was sponsored by Dunkin’ Donuts, who, of course, strove to be politically correct, but not necessarily historically correct.
“Christmas” was frequently mentioned (surprisingly), as was “Seasons” and “Holiday,” but I heard no reference to “Kwanzaa” or “Chanukah.” Just sayn’. Maybe I missed the float.
This is the trend I expect to continue: a parade more commercial and more reflective of contemporary values than historical correctness. Many of the Pilgrims in this year’s parade appeared far from starving. Must be from eating all of those donuts.
Unfortunately, maintaining the seasonal traditions into the future will be bucking two overwhelming trends:
The first is that food is cheap and getting cheaper. Celebrating with a feast made sense centuries ago, but obesity is the universal problem, today, not hunger. Want turkey and stuffing? Pick up a dinner anytime at Boston Market for under $10, better than you could cook at home.
(Asians are generally unfamiliar with turkey and don’t like it, so serving them a full turkey dinner may not be appreciated. Ask them first. Ask an Indian if they like beef. Ask an Arab if they like pork ribs. Ask me if I like fried jellyfish. The answer will often be “No.”)
The second trend is a revolt of consumption as a means of fulfillment. This is already recognized by a jaded public. The surprise gift of a car sitting in the driveway with a giant bow on the roof is being ridiculed more and more each year. We are learning that accumulating stuff is not the answer to our problems and is only destroying the environment.