How I learned the true meaning of Thanksgiving

My experience at the 2018 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade


The $20 snow jacket I bought a few days prior was doing little to protect me from the cold. Under the cheap jacket, I was wearing a long sleeve shirt, a short sleeve shirt, a sweater, leggings, jeans, a beanie, boots, gloves and two pairs of socks. I truly thought it would be enough; oh, how wrong I was. 

I was 13 years old, on my family’s annual trip to New York City during Thanksgiving break. It was something I looked forward to every year. However, that year’s trip was bittersweet; it would be the last time my sister would accompany us before she left for college, ironically enough at New York University. 

I watched the Macy’s Day Parade on television every year. It was a sacred tradition in my household. Seeing the Ronald McDonald balloon make its way toward 34th street or the various performers and marching bands had always been a reminder of my childhood during Thanksgiving. However, this year will be different. Instead of watching the parade through a screen, I was going to be there, live and in person.

We didn’t know what we were doing. The preparation for our spontaneous adventure began at 10 p.m. the night before the parade. Using personal blogs, news sites and Youtube videos, we formulated the basics of our plan: wake up early and layer up. In hindsight, I think I underestimated how crucial the latter would be.

Born and raised in sunny Southern California, I had no concept of winter. “Sweater weather” for me meant overcast and under 70 degrees. I assumed that a couple of layers, some gloves and a hat would be enough to keep out the biting cold, yet I was devastatingly freezing. Just a short walk from our hotel, we found our spot along 42nd Street-Bryant Park. It was 5:30 a.m., 19 degrees and still dark out, yet I was bubbling with excitement. 

After three hours of shivering on a New York street curb, the waiting was becoming unbearable. I was not the only one. Both my mom and sister were struggling to keep warm and stay positive. My hope was slowly draining, and the eagerness to fulfill my childhood Thanksgiving dream was fading. 

Suddenly, an angel appeared in disguise. In one moment, I truly understood the meaning of “not all heroes wear capes.” Riding in like my knight in shining armor, my mom found a CVS. She took the quick 15-minute walk and struck gold. When she returned, I had a blanket, snacks, water and eternal gratitude for my mother. 

I don’t remember much of the waiting; however, I do know if I check my photo history, I will find countless silly videos of the three of us trying to pass the time. I will scroll through endless candid selfies of my sister and me attempting to forget about our frigid situation. I can’t stop the giddy smile that appears on my face as I see three ambitious tourists, clearly out of their element, as they laugh and enjoy each other’s company. 

It only took five hours of waiting, but in the distance, I could see it. An enormous gold float with a red banner that reads “Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade” as festive music fills the streets. I hear joyful shouts of “Happy Thanksgiving” as men and women dressed as autumn leaves walk by with a wave and a smile. 

If you asked me today, I couldn’t tell you which character floats we saw or which schools the bands were from. What I can tell you is how much fun I remember having. I can tell you how, while I was frozen for hours, being with the two most important women in my life made the time fly. 

It’s the memories we have of friends and family that we remember most in life. Monumental events in my life like my Bat Mitzvah or winning a basketball state championship have created memories I will never forget. Yet, it’s the random Thursday lunch dates with my dad, the late-night trips to Yogurtland, or blasting Taylor Swift in the car with my best friends that make life special.

We didn’t find out until later, but 2018 was the coldest Thanksgiving New York has had since 1901, making it the second coldest Thanksgiving in New York’s history, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. 

So, what is the true meaning of Thanksgiving? Appreciate life’s little moments. Be grateful for the experiences you have and the people you share them with rather than the material items you own. It only took six hours, a trip to New York City and 19-degree weather to show me that.