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Spend some cool turkey time in Detroit

Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer November 24, 2013

If you want to start a new Thanksgiving tradition, kick-off the holiday season by attending a wonderful parade in downtown Detroit. The parade, called “America’s Thanksgiving Parade,” is one of the country’s oldest and most celebrated. It’s now in its 87th year.

It starts Thursday morning at 8:45 a.m. on Woodward Avenue and Kirby and ends at Woodward Avenue and Congress. Jim Leyland, the former manager of the Detroit Tigers, will be Grand Marshal, joining Santa Claus, who always makes an appearance in his sleigh.

Generations of Detroiters have enjoyed the tradition of going downtown to celebrate Thanksgiving. The nearly three-mile long parade, lined with families and even a few pets, includes 60 parade units, marching bands, 500 clowns, specialty acts, celebrities, the Big Head Corps and the Distinguished Clown Corps. This year’s theme is “Downtown, Our Town.”

The parade has some unique traditions, including “Big Heads,” some 300 papier-mâché heads worn by local volunteers. A 30-year tradition is the Distinguished Clown Corps, when corporate and community leaders make donations to trade their business suits for clown suits and join the parade.

“Disco Dogs & Cool Cats” is a new float this year— more than 120 feet long and 14 feet tall, adorned with more than 17 cats and dogs, an 8-foot tall disco ball and more than 100 dog bones.

To get the best spot on the parade route, you should consider starting out early by staying at a downtown hotel on Wednesday night. At last check, several hotels still had rooms available, including the well-located Downtown Holiday Inn Express Hotel and Suites. Otherwise, plan a very early start, so you can get into the city by 7 a.m. to get parking and a viewing spot. Parade veterans also suggest a thermos of something hot and snacks to help you stay warm. Grandstand seats take out some of the guesswork and can be bought online. Two local newscasters, Carmen Harlan and Devin Scillian, WDIV’s evening anchors, have hosted the parade for the past 20 years.

Forget about cooking — make reservations at one of Detroit’s many restaurants with special holiday menus. Try Honest John’s on Selden and Cass Avenue, a nice “dive joint” with excellent burgers and breakfast, located about one block west of the parade route. The Majestic Cafe hosts a Thanksgiving Breakfast Buffet from 7 a.m. until noon, so that you have a nice, warm place to watch the parade. The Whitney is hosting both a Thanksgiving Brunch with VIP Parade Seating at 7:30 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day, as well as Thanksgiving dinner a bit later.Cass Café, an art gallery and restaurant, and Union Street on Woodward, are open for business. Traffic Jam and Snug is known for its in-house bakery, microbrewery and dairy. Slow’s Barbeque To Go is open for takeout, so you can get a turkey sandwich (aptly called “The Sleeper”) to munch on the way home.

How about a Thanksgiving tailgater? It was the Detroit Lions who started playing football on Thanksgiving Day in 1934, much to the chagrin of nonfootball fans everywhere. That year, the Chicago Bears faced off against the Lions. This year, they will be playing the Green Bay Packers. Some fans tailgate at Eastern Market, about 10 minutes from the field. The market has parking starting at $40 for a tailgating spot or $15 for parking. The shuttle to the game costs $5.

A grand parade, a wonderful meal with no dirty dishes to wash, and a pro-football game — what a great Thanksgiving! And it’s as close as a trip to Detroit.

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