SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Every year, on the fourth Thursday in November, a young Susan Harker and her family gathered around the TV to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
“It was always a dream of mine to go to New York City to see it,” Harker, a stylist at the Fashion Place Mall Macy’s, says. “But I never dreamed of being in it.”
Perhaps she should have.
On Thanksgiving Day, Harker will perform in the 95th iteration of the famous parade as part of a chorus of 50 Macy’s employees from across the country. The choir will form a larger-than-life rendition of a singing Christmas tree as they join the annual procession through the streets of New York City.
The singing tree tradition began five years ago when the parade’s creative team was exploring ways to embody a new theme: ‘Together at Christmas.’ The team decided that bringing together Macy’s employees in performance would exemplify togetherness while also reflecting the history of the event.
According to Wesley Whatley, creative producer of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the first Macy’s parade started when employees from Manhattan’s Herald Square store approached management about putting on the show. And although the event has exploded in popularity and become an American holiday tradition in the years since, Whatley says has it has remained true to its origins.
“Our show has always had Macy’s colleague support,” he says. “It’s been the very bedrock of our show since the beginning.”
The singing Christmas tree chorus, however, connects Macy’s colleagues to the parade in a new way. Although Macy’s regularly invites store employees from the Eastern United States to participate in the parade as balloon handlers – and another Fashion Place Macy’s employee, Mary Whitehouse, will be a banner carrier in the parade this year – the singing Christmas tree is the first time that the organization has reached across the country to bring employees together to perform.
The chorus members will arrive in New York City on November 22 to begin rehearsals. Within just 48 hours, the Macy’s employees will learn the music and perfect their performance for the show on Thanksgiving morning. Then, Harker will hop on a flight back to Utah soon after her parade debut.
“Right after the parade, I need to jump in a Lyft and get back to the airport so I can be back for Black Friday,” she says with a laugh.
In order to audition for the Christmas tree chorus, applicants send in audition tapes in two parts: a singing video and a testimonial about what the experience would mean to them. Macy’s employees auditioned for the chorus virtually, and after each video was reviewed, casting announcements went out during the summer.
“Their heart is just as important as their talent,” Whatley says of the selection process.
Harker just so happens to have both.
Not only is the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade a treasured family tradition for the stylist, so is singing.
“My dad was a phenomenal singer, as was his father and his grandfather,” she says. “My great grandfather died when he was 39 years old and left his wife with 10 young children. My great grandfather had taught them to sing in harmony, so every Sunday they would sit on the front lawn and sing in harmony and people would come by and give them money. It was one of the ways they supported the family.”
This love of music was passed down through generations. Harker spent her youth performing in choirs and even attended college on a vocal scholarship.
Because of her deep connection to both the parade and to singing, Harker is sure to feel like she’s dreaming with her eyes open on Thanksgiving morning this year.
“I had tears streaming down my face when I found out,” she says. “I was jumping up and down. I was so happy. There’s hardly anything, other than giving birth to my children, that excited me as much as being in that parade. ”