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‘Better than dinner’: Philly’s Thanksgiving parade returns with live crowds

After last year's virtual Thanksgiving parade, spectators were overjoyed to be back on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to celebrate in person.

The Abominable Snowman gets spun by handlers at 16th and Ben Franklin Parkway at the Thanksgiving Day parade. The parade started at 20th and JFK Blvd and ended at the  Philadelphia Museum of Art on Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, November 25, 2021.
The Abominable Snowman gets spun by handlers at 16th and Ben Franklin Parkway at the Thanksgiving Day parade. The parade started at 20th and JFK Blvd and ended at the Philadelphia Museum of Art on Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, November 25, 2021.Read moreALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer

Families approached on foot from West Philly, holding folding chairs and each others’ hands as the music grew louder. They crossed the Spring Garden Street Bridge toward the Art Museum, where helicopters were hovering overhead.

The Benjamin Franklin Parkway had been transformed into a mile-long tailgate, with thousands of spectators hopped up on coffee from Dunkin’ and Wawa. Others sipped from red Solo cups filled with mimosas, Bloody Marys, or Kahlua.

They came for the floats, the drum lines, the massive tethered balloons. The pirates, fire trucks, veterans, sororities and fraternities, Eagles cheerleaders, Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus.

Fist bumps were doled out generously by police officers. Some broke out dancing to Kool & The Gang’s “Get Down On It” — including a couple of officers whose moves suggested they don’t do a lot of dancing in their free time.

For a few hours on a perfect fall morning, everyone seemed to be caught up in the moment. Smiles as far as the eye could see.

“I love it,” said Amy Trachtenberg, who was dancing on the other side of the fence. “I just love the spirit and the energy and interacting with the people on the floats.”

In the latest sign that Philadelphia is slowly returning to normal — or, as Mayor Jim Kenney would put it, “turkey, football, and a late-afternoon nap” — the oldest Thanksgiving parade in the nation was back on the streets of Philadelphia, following last year’s virtual event due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Children rolled around in leaves as a giant Dr. Seuss balloon floated past. Unicyclists from the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts hung onto one another and twirled in formation. Pickup games of touch football broke out along the parade route.

“It’s fun to be back,” said Nancy Lanoce, of Roxborough. “Just with everything else going on in the world, it’s a nice gathering of families. And it’s good for the city, too.”

Next to Lanoce, her 2-year-old grandson sat on her son’s shoulders, both of them bobbing to a booming rendition of “Joy to the World” performed by the Marching Dragons from Kingsway Regional High School.

“My mom brought me when I was a kid,” said her son, Gary. “It’s a rite of passage.”

Jacqueline Linton, who was posted up by the Art Museum, wasn’t taking any chances for the 102nd edition of the parade, officially known as the 6ABC Dunkin’ Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Linton, of Mount Holly, N.J., arrived before dawn to make sure she got a prime spot along The Parkway. Waving a pink pom-pom, she seemed intent on personally wishing everyone in the parade a Happy Thanksgiving.

“I hear ya, ladies!” Linton yelled out to singing members of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority as they strolled along the parade route.

» READ MORE: A look at Philadelphia's Thanksgiving Day Parade, back for the first time since the pandemic started

“It’s such a beautiful thing,” said Linton, who had been there since 5 a.m. and documented the experience with her phone. “I’m livestreaming for the folks still at home in their warm beds.”

Even Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw and SEPTA Police Chief Thomas Nestel were seen walking the parade route and chatting with spectators along the way.

When a balloon of Daniel Tiger — of PBS fame, according to one parent in the know — came floating by, young children stared silently in awe, while adults with beers started chanting, “Spin that tiger!” The men and women with ropes that kept Daniel from floating away obliged with smiles behind their masks, spinning the balloon to wild cheers.

“The people of Philadelphia are ecstatic to have the parade back. We’re carrying on a tradition,” said Madi Resnic, 24, who is going to college outside the city, but never misses the Thanksgiving parade in Philadelphia.

“Honestly,” she said, “sometimes it can even be better than dinner.”

And for those who did miss the Thanksgiving parade, you’re in luck: Philadelphia is adding a new multicultural holiday parade on Market Street this year, running from Second and Market Streets to City Hall on Dec. 4.

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