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Macy's parade decision a sign of the times

The Snoopy balloon at the start of the

The Snoopy balloon at the start of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in 2019. Credit: AP/Mark Lennihan

These are not normal times. We all say it, all the time. And though we yearn for a return to normalcy amid this coronavirus pandemic, reminders arrive daily that we are not there yet, not by a long shot.

Even so, the announcement that this year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade would be transformed from a live event pulsing with the energy of millions of spectators into a virtual made-only-for-TV show was particularly sobering. Attending the parade is a ritual for many families in the region, and an unforgettable experience for people around the world making a one-time visit to New York City or watching the spectacle unfold on television. It’s a global touchstone.

But the changeup thrown Monday by Mayor Bill de Blasio was the right call. There really is no safe way to bring together the thousands of high school and college bands, floats and ballon handlers, and other performers with the usual 3.5 million spectators, even outdoors. Too many large gatherings have turned into super-spreader events, a point driven home by outbreaks of infections on college campuses and various hot spots around the country. And that’s even before the expected resurgence of the virus this fall.

The virtual parade — which will consist of pretaped segments filmed in and around Herald Square, with vehicles rather than people anchoring the giant balloons, and no baton twirlers or marching musicians in delightful regional uniforms — might not capture the same spirit, joy and warmth as the actual procession, as de Blasio promised. But that’s OK. Our collective health comes first. That’s the same principle that underscored recent decisions to cancel the renowned Halloween parade in Greenwich Village with its 50,000 costumed marchers and the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. It’s also the rationale behind countless other postponements, cancellations, closures and reshapings in all facets of our lives.

The Thanksgiving Day Parade kicks off the holiday season and sets its rhythm. Its recasting is a reminder that this most joyous time is going to feel different, too. We all have precautions to take and decisions to make about our own holiday traditions like big family dinners and office parties and shopping. How many is too many? How should we prepare for our college students who can bring infections home with them? What do we do about religious services, from the Jewish High Holy Days this month to those in other denominations in the months ahead?

Whatever we decide, our thinking will need to evolve as circumstances develop. That’s been true since the virus emerged. We see the recalibrations of previous decisions playing out here and abroad. Restrictions once eased are being reimposed, and schools and businesses once reopened are again being shuttered, as the virus makes a comeback.

Until a safe, effective and trusted vaccine is available for widespread distribution, our lives will continue to be filled with changes, recalculations and disappointments. The parade will pass us by in a different form this year, and we can all be wistful but not surprised.

— The editorial board