Most traditional Thanksgiving celebrations involve gathering around the dinner table.
But for families and friends of six local high school students, today's most important observance will find them gathered in front of the television, long before the dinner hour, celebrating their kids' involvement in a different, but equally hallowed holiday tradition: Macy's 85th annual Thanksgiving Day Parade.
More than 3 million spectators are expected to line the Manhattan parade route of more than two miles.
Some 50 million more across the U.S. will tune in to see the parade (scheduled to air locally from 9 a.m. to noon on KSNV-TV, Channel 3) and its signature giant helium balloons, including newcomers Sonic the Hedgehog and that mischievous Paul Frank monkey Julius.
Members of Broadway musicals and the Big Apple Circus join in the fun, along with the Radio City Rockettes, star singers from Mary J. Blige to Neil Diamond.
To say nothing of 11 marching bands, led by Macy's Great American Marching Band, an all-star, all-state ensemble that, this year, includes six local high school musicians: Centennial High School's Kaden Carr, Shannon Curtin and Pearce Nitta, plus Daniel Gershin of Shadow Ridge, Hannah Giardina of Palo Verde and Robert Machado of Desert Oasis.
Macy's officials created the Great American Marching Band five years ago for the parade's 80th anniversary, inviting band directors from all 50 states and the District of Columbia to nominate "one or two star musicians from their program," according to Wesley Whatley , creative director for Macy's Parade and Entertainment Group.
When he heard about the band, "I thought that would be awesome," says Carr, a Centennial junior who plays the mellophone.
After all, they all "know how prestigious and famous the Macy's parade is," says Desert Oasis junior Machado, who'll be playing trumpet in the band.
Because his acceptance letter originally got lost in the mail, Machado didn't find out he'd made the band until his grandmother called with the news while he was out to dinner, "and I pretty much screamed in the middle of the restaurant -- with excitement."
Wannabe band members record themselves playing their instruments and submit resumes listing their musical accomplishments, Whatley points out; a panel of college music professors then reviews the applications, selecting students "based on merit and instrumentation needed for the band."
That explains how Palo Verde senior Giardina , who plays the flute, wound up as a banner carrier.
She found out about the competition while attending band camp at the University of Oregon. By the time she applied, "the flute section was filled," she says -- but they still had room for her to participate as one of two banner carriers.
"I'm just happy I have the opportunity to go," Giardina says -- although she admits she's a bit concerned about marching around on a chilly New York morning. But, she reasons, "I have tights and leotards."
Because Macy's offers no financial assistance, Whatley says, families must foot the bill for each musician's Thanksgiving trek, which Shadow Ridge junior Gershin, another trumpeter, says is costing his parents $1,500.
It's worth it, according to parents Marcy and Ira, who "support Daniel in whatever way we can," dad Ira says.
In preparation for today's big parade, band members receive sheet music ahead of time "and memorize their parts prior to arrival in the New York City area" last weekend, reports Whatley.
This year, that meant learning a marching-band arrangement of "Disco Inferno," says Shadow Ridgel's Gershin, along with "a song specially composed for the band."
Leading up to today's parade, band members were fitted for their special red-and-white uniforms -- accented with a Macy's star -- and attended daily music and marching rehearsals where "the band comes together as a performance ensemble," Whatley explains. While they have little time to play tourist, the high schoolers do have the chance to "experience the sights of New York City, see theater and attend a leadership development session."
A few Las Vegas family members planned to join the parade to New York, but most are staying home to watch the kids on TV.
"From everything we've read about it, if the parents come along, you have nothing to do with the kids," says Giardina's father, David, who plans to join wife Holly and catch daughter Hannah in action on TV.
"We'll have the TiVo ready. Her mom and I are excited for her."
But the excitement extends beyond the students' immediate families, as kids and parents alike discovered at a recent Clark County School Board meeting, where they posed for photos with district officials.
"What a great honor for you and for our district," said board president Carolyn Edwards, who joined Superintendent Dwight D. Jones for pictures with the young musicians. "Just stay warm and represent us well, which I know you will."
Contact reporter Carol Cling at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0272.