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I Was a Clown in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Here’s What I Learned

I’m standing at 77th Street and Central Park West watching Jake Owen perform on a giant float as New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio tries to make his way through a sea of clowns.

On any other day, I’m a Fortune Magazine employee. On Thanksgiving morning, I was a Malt Shop clown.

I was one of more than a thousand clowns whose day began at 5:45 a.m. at the New Yorker Hotel where we scrambled to put on costumes and make-up. Many of the volunteer clowns spent the previous weekend attending a one-day training session called “Clown U” at the Big Apple Circus where they trained with professional clowns. (Why? Because you think it’s all fun and games until you accidentally throw your entire bag of confetti at a spectator.) I unfortunately couldn’t attend Clown U, but I did have to do an online clown training and sign a Clown Oath, which outlined good clown behavior on the day of the parade. [Full disclosure: I despise clowns, so this was a really big personal growth experience.]

It was truly impressive to see how smoothly it all came together on parade day. We marched through the parade, interacted with spectators and returned to the New Yorker Hotel by 11 a.m., where hot chocolate and snacks were waiting for us. Though Macy’s does not disclose the cost of the parade, it’s quite the operation. There are 8,000 total participants (approximately 4,000 of which are Macy’s employees), including clowns, marching bands, dancers, balloon handlers and big-name performers.

However, the part that stood out to me the most is that many of these volunteers are working professionals who gladly spend their Thanksgiving morning dancing and throwing confetti down the streets of New York. Just in our clown crew, we had doctors, nurses, advertising executives, social media managers and a ton of Macy’s employees.

Deborah Plotsky, a Macy’s employee and clown captain, has participated in the parade four times. Plotsky went through an interview process for the position and says she “was selected for my enthusiasm.”

“A lot of people love dressing up in kooky costumes and walking down the streets of New York,” she says. “It’s not every day that you see a giant foam seahorse wandering down Sixth Avenue.”

I walk those same New York streets every day, but nothing compares to the energy I felt during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. As I made my way down the 2.5-mile parade route lined with enthusiastic spectators, a doctor dressed as a Malt Shop clown didn’t seem so strange anymore.