Philly’s Thanksgiving Parade Is a Turkey, but Our Block Parties Rock. Here’s a Better Idea.

A modest proposal — America's largest Thanksgiving dinner — will put the "giving" back into the holiday.

2009 Thanksgiving Day parade in Philadelphia. Photo | AP/Matt Rourke

2009 Thanksgiving Day parade in Philadelphia. Photo | AP/Matt Rourke

The nation’s oldest Thanksgiving parade is right around the corner, and as is tradition this time of year, the eyes of the nation will be fixated on the spectacle unfolding on the streets of… New York.

The 6ABC-Dunkin’ Donuts Thanksgiving Day Parade is a pageant of color, sound and balloons, like its more-watched cousin 90 miles up the road. But as with most of the other parades that take place in this city, one feels somewhat underwhelmed by the spectacle. Residents in cities smaller than ours turn out in greater numbers for similar parades, or at least so it appears to this observer. That lack of spectator participation has even caused this city’s one true world-class parade, the Mummers affair on New Year’s Day, to lose some of its luster in recent years.

What Philadelphians do turn out for, however, are block parties.

We fill the streets for street fairs, and our largest ones deserve the world-class label: The Ritttenhouse Row Spring Festival. The Midtown Village Fall Festival. Even our second-tier fairs — South Street’s Bloktoberfest, Outfest and the Night Markets that have taken the city by storm, to name a few — tend to put their peers in other cities to shame.  And now Old City wants to get in on the act, too.

The Mummers have done their best to bring the magic back to Broad Street, with some success, but in general, it seems to me that pouring more energy into pumping up our parades might produce a return less than commensurate with the effort. We could, however, put on an event that would mark this city as truly distinctive come next Thanksgiving: Instead of turning the Parkway into a parade route, let’s make it the site of America’s largest Thanksgiving dinner.

Think of this as a recurring version of that big meal on Independence Mall the Mural Arts Program threw in October to celebrate its 30th anniversary, with the only difference being that this would be open to everyone. Imagine a long table stretching the length of the Parkway, laden with all the traditional Thanksgiving dishes. (For the vegetarians, there’d be a section where Tofurkey is the main course.)

Local restaurateurs could set up cooking tents along the sides to replicate the morning scene in households across the region, and at intervals, there’d be “living rooms” equipped with Jumbotrons, half of which tuned to football games and the other half to the National Dog Show, Philly’s true contribution to the nation’s harvest celebration.

For those not inclined to TV-watching, local businesses could also set up booths offering their wares. Since the big merchants are steadily ratcheting Black Friday ever closer to the Thanksgiving dinner itself, this would offer a chance for the small fries to jump the gun.

Then, sometime around 3 p.m., dinner would be served. Imagine how appealing the aromas of thousands of turkeys, tons of stuffing, mountains of mashed potatoes and acres of vegetables would be.

It would even offer a golden opportunity to bring people from all walks of life together in a way we rarely do any more. Charitable organizations could also participate, combining service to the homeless and service to the city in one grand gesture.

Our tourism-promotion people go to great lengths promoting events and activities that are distinctive to this region. In contrast to a parade, this event would be such a distinctive event. And it would be truly Philadelphian to boot, drawing as it does on one of our strongest neighborhood and citywide institutions, the block party.

With all that going for this idea, how could anyone have reservations about it?

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