Admittedly, Brianna Kaufman is “a little obsessed” with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The Director of Operations at the Baltimore Curriculum Project remembers how much watching the yearly spectacle on TV meant to her growing up.
“As a kid, my favorite tradition was waking up on Thanksgiving morning and watching the parade while my mom was in the kitchen cooking,” says Kaufman, who now lives with her husband and two children in the Upper Fells Point/Butchers Hill area. “I wouldn’t leave the living room until I saw Santa Claus. And when I moved to Baltimore in 2006, one of the reasons I was so excited to be on the East Coast is that it was so close to New York City.”
Naturally, to celebrate her first Thanksgiving after moving to Charm City, Kaufman hopped on a bus to the Big Apple with a friend to watch the parade for the first time in person. In 2013, she made the trip again with her now-husband, who proposed right after the last of the floats passed by.
This year, the Macy’s parade enthusiast will attend once again—but not as a spectator. On Thursday, Kaufman will realize her lifelong dream of joining the sea of floats and performers as a balloon handler.
“I’ve watched twice from the sidelines, but it’s always been up around the 60-70th Street, Central Park West area,” she says. “I don’t know what it’s like the rest of the way down the parade route.”
That will change as Kaufman joins a conductor and a team of other handlers to showcase the beloved Pillsbury Doughboy balloon—which is the last to appear before Santa. The dream opportunity presented itself to Kaufman through a fan group on Facebook.
“It’s just a lot of people that are really excited about the parade,” she says of the page. “One night, I saw somebody ask ‘How do you get in the parade?’ And this guy popped up and said, ‘Hey, I can help y’all. I’ll send you a link.’ It was as simple as that. This year, especially because of the pandemic, [Macy’s] was looking for vaccinated volunteers. That was really the only requirement. I told my husband and he was like, ‘Well, if you’re gonna do it, I want to do it!’
The duo is ready to bundle up and return to the scene of their engagement to carry out their duties for the event Thursday. “My role is just to hold the rope and follow directions,” Kaufman sums up.
“The Pillsbury Doughboy is a very large balloon,” she explains. “There’s a leadership team of 12. And one person, who’s kind of a conductor, will be at the front of the balloon giving hand signals. If the weather is good, they might tell us to let the rope out a little more, kind of like flying a kite. And sometimes, when it’s too windy, they fly the balloons lower or closer to the ground. There are lots of people on the ground giving instructions.”
Though it is likely to be a chaotic morning, Kaufman is excited to finally participate in the national tradition that has remained so significant throughout her life.
“It’s a magical day, and to be part of that is really awesome,” she says. “I know it sounds corny, but it’s a lifelong dream. I really enjoy doing new things, and this is just another one to add to the list.”