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Thanksgiving is the Cutting Edge Holiday

Thanksgiving is the Cutting Edge Holiday

When we think of things we associate with Thanksgiving, cutting edge technologies probably don’t make the list. If anything, developing technology seems to be at odds with the “pilgrim” iconography and aesthetic most closely associated with the holiday. However, there have been a few noteworthy instances where either the holiday has influenced innovation or innovation has influenced the holiday. One of the most culturally important of those crossovers is the impact that the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has had on television and broadcast technology.

The parade was first aired as an experimental broadcast in New York City in 1939, making it one of the world’s first televised outdoor events; the 1936 Olympic Games, the BBC’s coverage of the coronation of George VI in 1937, 1939 coverage of a college baseball game, and experimental footage of the 1939 New York World’s Fair are the only outside broadcasts known to predate it. Early television cameras generally required ample lighting to produce a usable image, which made broadcasting outside of studios incredibly difficult. But the popularity of those first outdoor broadcasts proved that there was a public demand for it, which gave television producers more than enough reason to push the limits of existing technology and eventually lead to new innovations.

The parade wouldn’t return to airwaves until 1945 (including a complete suspension of the event from 1942-1944), largely due to the outbreak of World War II. But by 1948, just 9 short years after it first aired in New York City as an experiment in outdoor television, the parade was being carried nationally on CBS. In 1960 it was broadcast in color for the first time, making it one of the first outdoor transmissions to be widely viewed that way. It’s been a beloved holiday tradition since then, and several generations of Americans have grown up watching the parade as an unofficial kickoff to the winter holiday season.

Even in 2020, the parade continues to innovate, as this year’s version is being reimagined as a televised-only event with minimal human participation. It’s difficult to believe that at least some of the techniques and technologies that are used to make that happen won’t stick around well after a vaccine for COVID-19 is commonplace. Now is a time of evolution for communications technology in the world, and Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is again poised to be a leading—if somewhat odd—force in that change.

So, yes, Thanksgiving has been—and will probably continue to be—an important holiday for cutting edge technology. It might be worth embracing those ties more openly as we establish new Thanksgiving traditions that will endure into the future, especially as Black Friday and Cyber Monday become ever more entwined with Thanksgiving itself.

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