On Thanksgiving, just about everyone in America does the same thing, joining family and friends for a lavish meal and an opportunity to give thanks for abundant blessings. In Downtown Silver Spring, the togetherness-and-gratitude routine starts early, with the annual Montgomery County Thanksgiving Parade stepping off from the corner of Ellsworth Drive and Fenton Street at 10 a.m. on the Saturday before Turkey Day.
“It’s really become a big deal,” said Susan Hoffmann, the county’s communications and public outreach manager. “In the beginning, we didn’t have as many groups participating, but we’ve gotten many more interesting floats and great bands. It’s gotten a lot prettier, and it’s become the big parade for youngsters who just love parades so much.”
Not just youngsters—the county says that more than 10,000 people come to see its Thanksgiving Day parade each year, enjoying more than 100 bands, floats, community groups and, yes, inflatable balloons.
“It’s not Snoopy, but it’s good,” said Hoffmann, noting that because of its traffic arms, Downtown Silver Spring doesn’t lend itself to soaring helium balloons à la New York’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. “We have 12- and 13- and 14-foot inflatables that fit, and they’re really cool; they’re big, and they’re close to people.”
Maybe not close enough for selfies, but parade organizers have that covered this year, setting up a giant photo center of sorts on Veterans Plaza, right next to the ice rink. There, Hoffmann explained, “We’ve set up a number of holiday vignettes, so people can take their holiday pictures.” There’s Christmas and Hanukkah décor, seasonal inflatables like turkeys, penguins, even Queen Elsa from “Frozen.” “You can take a picture, hashtag it (#MoCoThanksParade), and see it right away on the jumbotron.”
You also can see it on television. This year, ABC7 and News Channel 8 will air the event live, with ABC7/WJLA Meteorologist Brian Van De Graaff serving as parade emcee, and then re-broadcast it on Thanksgiving Day.
Hoffmann said that during its 20-year run, the parade has kept up with Downtown Silver Spring’s reemergence as a cultural capital, adding entertainment to reflect the exciting mix of cultures that defines Montgomery County in 2017. There will be Peruvian and Bolivian musical and dancing groups in colorful costumes, the latter bringing their caporales tradition straight from the Andes, plus high school marching bands from Montgomery County, D.C. and even Florida, as well as the usual parade fare: fire engines, floats, police on horseback, clowns and theatrical set pieces.
“We have Maryland Youth Ballet kicking things off right before the parade starts, doing a little scene from ‘The Nutcracker,’” Hoffmann said. She admits this display of local artists–Adventure Theatre MTC and Bravo Productions also will perform–is a nod to the Macy’s parade in New York, with its easy access to Broadway talent. “I always aspire to the best,” she laughed.
That was in 1997; the ensuing rebuild of Silver Spring “gave the parade a nicer setting,” observed Hoffmann. “Now there’s lots of interesting public art, fun signage, all of that. When we were in discussion with ABC7 and News Channel 8 to televise the event, the fact that Downtown Silver Spring was so well-developed and thriving was a good strong selling point.”
Indeed, Hoffmann said that with its ample parking, easy access to public transportation and built-in amenities like restaurants and shops, Silver Spring is a perfect place for a parade. “The redevelopment certainly enhanced the parade—and the parade enhances the downtown!
“This is the only Thanksgiving Day parade in metropolitan Washington,” Hoffman added, noting that families come from all over the county and beyond. “It’s really become a regional event.”
The 20th Annual Montgomery County Thanksgiving Parade will be held rain or shine on Saturday, Nov. 18, stepping off at 10 a.m. from the intersection of Ellsworth Drive and Fenton Street in Downtown Silver Spring. The parade will be broadcast live at 10 a.m. on News Channel 8, and again on Thanksgiving Day. Call 240-777-0311 or visit www.silverspringdowntown.com.