Fall for New York

Fall for New York

AUTUMN is my favourite season and Autumn In New York (2000) one of my favourite romantic dramas, and not just because it stars Richard Gere.

There is a wonderful contradiction about Fall, as it is called in the United States, that rejuvenates the spirit - even as much of nature is dying, it does so in a spectacular way.

In countries with seasons, taking a stroll in the park amid the flaming autumnal colours of red, brown and gold and breathing in the cool, crisp air invoke a sense of nostalgic melancholy that is missing in the heat of the tropics.

I arrived in New York City filled with anticipation. So what if I would not get to link hands with Richard Gere in Central Park? I would most certainly be frolicking in the deep fall foliage with my daughter - an activity even more meaningful and memorable to me.

Best of all, we would be celebrating Thanksgiving in the city, when the rest of Manhattan - with the exception of the hordes of tourists - were away visiting family. We would be in the thick of the action at the famous Macy's Thanksgiving Parade as well as the popular Black Friday sales.

Big attraction

Thanksgiving Day is a national holiday celebrated in the US on the fourth Thursday of November. It is traditionally a day of giving thanks for the blessings of the harvest and of the preceding year.

New York City marks this day with the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade - a spectacular annual pageant of giant balloons, floats, cheerleaders, clowns, marching bands and performers.

Presented by department store chain Macy's, the tradition started in 1924 and is the second-oldest Thanksgiving parade in the US.

Besides the well-known balloons and floats, the event also features live music and other performances in front of the flagship Macy's store on Broadway and 34th Street, and is broadcast live to close to 50 million Americans.

Let the parade begin

The three-hour saga started at 9am, but for an unobstructed view, we were advised to stake out our spot around 6am. We decided against hanging out for three hours in the freezing cold prior to the parade, opting instead to join in the family fun that began the day before as the giant balloons received their annual helium injections.

A holiday tradition of its own, the Macy's balloon inflation sees tens of thousands crowd the streets surrounding the American Museum of Natural History on Manhattan's Upper West Side to witness Hello Kitty, Kermit the Frog, Buzz Light year and others come to life.

It wasn't a leisurely stroll on Wednesday evening with a child in tow. We were herded along with other spectators into a procession to view the deflated balloons gain shape.

On Thanksgiving Day, we arrived at our viewing spot - near the junction of 50th Street and Sixth Avenue - an hour early. Already, a sea of spectators flanked the parade route and we had to be content with standing a block away.

While we couldn't catch much of the ground action, we did not miss the event's big attraction - literally and figuratively.

The gigantic balloons that soared down the parade route were in clear sight, from Spiderman to Snoopy, SpongeBob SquarePants to the Smurfs. It was a surreal sight that was greeted by cameras clicking and children squealing.

The parade concluded with the arrival of Santa Claus to ring in the holiday season.

Sale away

With the Thanksgiving Parade over, I still had one more item to tick off my bucket list: Black Friday shopping for Christmas gifts.

Black Friday - the day following Thanksgiving Day - signals the beginning of the holiday shopping season in the US, and most major retailers open very early, offering massive promotional sales.

More recently, some stores have begun opening their doors during overnight hours and even the evening of Thanksgiving Day. Prospective shoppers across the country have been known to camp out over the Thanksgiving holiday in an effort to secure a place in front of the snaking lines.

On the night of Thanksgiving, having caught media coverage on the chaos, stampedes and even deliberate violence that have been known to take place on Black Friday, I hit the streets of Manhattan at 4am with a tinge of apprehension.

The streets were bustling with shoppers and the stores buzzing with activity. It actually felt more festive than frenzied. Deterred by the long queues at the cashier counters, I did not get any Christmas shopping done.

Nevertheless, I had a great time window-shopping and people watching in the wee hours of the morning.

The next morning, my daughter clamoured to visit the stores. The draw was not the shopping but the astounding holiday window displays. Christmas came alive as we gazed in awe at the magical scenes presented before us.

We ended our Thanksgiving celebration with an ice-skating session at the park, followed by a Catholic mass at the iconic St Patrick's Cathedral to give thanks for our amazing adventure.

GUIDELINES

We flew from Singapore to New York City on Japan Airlines, transiting in Narita, Japan. From the JFK International Airport, we took a cab to our hotel in Manhattan.

Stuff yourself silly at one of the many Manhattan restaurants open on Thanksgiving. They dish out fowl feasts - from traditional roast turkey to turkey paella.

This year, Thanksgiving in the US falls on Nov 26.

Go to sgtravellers.com for more stories.

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