By Anne O’Connor
TOWNSEND — Thanksgiving. It’s a time of tradition, eating the turkey and flipping on the television to watch the local football game or a parade.
Six years ago, Tina and Kevin O’Reilly began a new tradition. The night before Thanksgiving, they leave their home an hour before midnight. Ten hours later, costumed and in makeup, they are ready to be clowns in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in Manhattan.
The day is long, but it is obvious the O’Reillys enjoy it. “Everybody’s all excited,” Tina said. The couple catches a bus that leaves Macy’s in Nashua at midnight. It stops in Rhode Island to pick up more marchers.
Folks bring food and snacks to share, and pillows to be comfortable, she said.
When she talks about the pre-dawn arrival at the parade’s end point, the New Yorker Hotel, O’Reilly wears a huge grin.
“There’s a line of people,” she said. “You’re seeing the line of clowns this way. If you’re a balloon handler, (you go) there.”
Before the parade starts there is lots of waiting. According to an article on AdAge.com, 4,000 people, 850 of them clowns, will march in the parade.
First they stand in line to find and change into their costumes. Next is a line for the makeup table.
Even with all the people, everything goes smoothly, she said.
After catching a shuttle to the parade’s start, the couple has time to see the sights. Balloons wait to be deployed; the giant inflatables lie in wait beneath nets. Crowds of people mill around before meeting at a designated spot.
Countdown begins. “Ahh, it’s so exciting,” she said.
The clowns travel in groups along the parade route, greeting children and generally clowning it up.
The O’Reillys get high-fives and often hear, “Can you take my picture? Can you take my picture?” the whole time they are parading, Tina said.
“They just love the confetti,” she said, miming throwing the bits of paper around.
“You feel like a rock star,” she said. “You’re just so into the crowds.”
When marchers arrive at the end of the route, their clothing and snacks await them at the hotel. Then, it’s back on the bus, arriving in Townsend between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Tina’s enthusiasm brought the opportunity to march in the parade to the grandparents.
She had a good shopping experience at the Macy’s at Pheasant Lane Mall in Nashua and went back to compliment the store manager. The manager was not in, but she got to talking with a department manager.
The woman told her about her own experience holding a balloon in the parade.
Tina said, “Oh my goodness. That’s so exciting.” The manager had a surprise.
“I can sponsor someone, and I want it to be you,” the manager said.
Another manager agreed to sponsor Tina’s husband Kevin so the couple could go together.
Now, they cook their turkey on Tuesday, and take part in the Macy’s New York tradition that first took place in 1925, as a Christmas parade.
They hope to be invited again in 2016.