Thanksgiving wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, says “Today” co-anchor Hoda Kotb.
“You’ve got to have it on in the background while you’re making gravy,” she says during a Zoom conference. “We’re just good company.”
While the New York tradition won’t fill the city’s streets, it will be staged in front of the Macy’s Department Store on 34th Street.
Parts of the broadcast will be taped, parts will be live and, yes, parts will include balloons.
“We’re bringing those balloons down the street safely, using small utility vehicles,” says Susan Tercero, executive producer of the parade. In the past, each balloon required 90 to 100 handlers. This year, in-person participation is reduced by approximately 75 percent.
“All of New York is not going to be able to participate in the live parade,” she says. “But they can do it safely from their home.”
Broadway musicals, the Rockettes and Santa Claus are still on tap; singers like Dolly Parton and Patti LaBelle also will be in tow.
Instead of bringing bands from around the country, the parade will have several New York-area bands and tapes of ones from parades that weren’t able to take place.
For Kotb, those bands are among the most special features of the parade.
“Whenever you watch a high school band march by, there’s something about that moment,” she says. “Their heads are high. They’re making a moment they’ve dreamt about. I don’t know who’s beaming more – the band or their instructors. I like watching a dream come true.”
Tercero, who grew up in Texas, remembers when her babysitter’s band was in the parade. “It was such a big deal and it is such a big deal,” she says. “This is something that is part of everyone’s life.”
Next year, if a vaccine has made travel safe, the bands will be back and the parade will return to its roots.
Thursday, Kotb will host with her “Today” co-anchor, Savannah Guthrie. Al Roker, who was recently diagnosed with prostate cancer, will appear, as well. “Hopefully, Al will be in his typical rare form on parade day,” Kotb says. “He’s going through a difficult time, but it’s never, ‘You’ve got this,’ it’s ‘We’ve got this.’”
When Kotb was diagnosed with breast cancer, Roker was among the first to visit her in the hospital. In her mind, she wondered, “Why is he here?” and then she reminded herself, “Of course he’s here. That’s what Roker does.”
A different Thanksgiving
At home, Kotb says, she’ll celebrate the holiday a bit differently. Instead of having everyone around the table, “we’re going to try and do our best with Zoom. We have this thing where you can prop up an iPad on a chair. It’s weird, but it’s oddly normal. All of a sudden, you realize we are sitting around the table. It’s not going to be like this every Thanksgiving…but we have to make some difficult choices.”
Because Macy’s personnel start work on the parade 18 months in advance, they had to do some quick-thinking during lockdown. The idea wasn’t to abandon it, but how it could continue, considering restrictions and safety.
At the “Today” show, Kotb says, work has not let up. Her approach, however, has changed. Instead of thinking of all the things she has to do, she takes time to “focus on a couple of good things.”
“After a shower, I sit downstairs and play the music I love and I write down three things I’m grateful for. Sometimes, I struggle with the third. But when you sit there, your brain starts looking for those things and, literally, when you’re done with those three things you actually feel lighter. And then I write one amazing thing that happened the day before.”
Kotb chooses morning (3:30 is when she gets up) because it’s a reset. “I stole this from a TED talk – write down three things, one thing you’re grateful for, prayer and meditation and exercise. If you do those five things daily, it will change how you feel.”
The 56-year-old Oklahoma native – who had planned to marry Joel Schiffman last weekend in Mexico – says she also makes sure she surrounds herself with “five good people.” Friends who always look at the negative side of life will bring you down. Positive people will do the opposite. “Choose wisely,” she says, then adds with a smile, “If that doesn’t work, it’s just straight booze. You’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do.”
Looking at the positive
The pandemic taught her she didn’t need “all this maintenance stuff” – hair color and nails. “When you don’t do all that stuff, everything gets strong. You realize when you do live without them, you’re actually stronger. We got a priority reset.
“The world, weirdly, snaps into focus. We have to decide what goes by the wayside.”
Kotb’s mother has also proven to be a good reality check.
She told her she and other colleagues shouldn’t talk so much about depression. She said she gets up every morning, walks to a coffee place and talks with a friend, does pilates on Zoom and still enjoys life. “She’s right. If you look for goodness, you’ll find it. There is a bright side. You just have to find it.”