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Hoda Kotb on Macy's parade, Thanksgiving traditions and focusing on good things in life

Hoda Kotb on Macy's parade, Thanksgiving traditions and focusing on good things in life

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From left: Al Roker, Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb during NBC's coverage of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

Thanksgiving wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, says “Today” co-anchor Hoda Kotb.

“You’ve got to have it on in the background while you’re making gravy,” she says via Zoom. Since 2018, she has also co-hosted NBC’s coverage of the parade. “We’re just good company.”

While the parade’s marchers and floats won’t fill New York’s streets this year because of the ongoing pandemic, a televised version will be staged in front of the Macy’s store on 34th Street in Manhattan.

Some portions of the broadcast will be taped, some will be live and, yes, some will include balloons.

“We’re bringing those balloons down the street safely, using small utility vehicles,” says Susan Tercero, the parade’s executive producer. In the past, each balloon required 90 to 100 human handlers. This year, in-person participation is reduced by about 75%.

“All of New York is not going to be able to participate in the live parade,” she says. “But they can do it safely from their home.”

Broadway performers, the Rockettes and Santa Claus are still on tap; singers including Dolly Parton and Patti LaBelle also will be in tow.

Instead of bringing marching bands from across the country, the parade will have several New York-area bands and filmed performances by some that weren’t able to participate.

For Kotb, those bands are among the most special parts of the parade.

“Whenever you watch a high school band march by, there’s something about that moment,” she says. “Their heads are high. They’re making a moment they’ve dreamt about. I don’t know who’s beaming more — the band or their instructors. I like watching a dream come true.”

Tercero, who grew up in Texas, remembers when her babysitter’s band was in the parade.

“It was such a big deal and it is such a big deal,” she says. “This is something that is part of everyone’s life.”

Next year, if a coronavirus vaccine has made travel safe, the bands will be back, and the parade will return to its roots.

On Nov. 26, Kotb will host the broadcast with her “Today” co-anchor Savannah Guthrie. Al Roker, who was recently diagnosed with prostate cancer, will also appear.

“Hopefully, Al will be in his typical rare form on parade day,” Kotb says. “He’s going through a difficult time, but it’s never ‘You’ve got this’ — it’s ‘We’ve got this.’”

When Kotb was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007, Roker was among the first to visit her in the hospital. She wondered, “Why is he here?” and then she reminded herself: “Of course he’s here. That’s what Roker does.”

At home, Kotb says, she’ll celebrate the holiday a bit differently. Instead of having everyone around the table, “we’re going to try and do our best with Zoom. We have this thing where you can prop up an iPad on a chair. It’s weird, but it’s oddly normal. All of a sudden, you realize we are sitting around the table. It’s not going to be like this every Thanksgiving … but we have to make some difficult choices.”

Because Macy’s personnel start working on the parade 18 months in advance, they had to do some quick thinking during lockdown. The idea wasn’t to abandon it but rather to safely reimagine its 94th edition.

At “Today,” Kotb says, work has not let up. But her approach has changed. Instead of thinking of all the things she has to do, she takes time to “focus on a couple of good things.”

“After a shower, I sit downstairs and play the music I love, and I write down three things I’m grateful for. Sometimes, I struggle with the third. But when you sit there, your brain starts looking for those things and, literally, when you’re done with those three things, you actually feel lighter. And then I write one amazing thing that happened the day before.”

The 56-year-old Oklahoma native says she also makes sure to surround herself with “five good people.” Friends who always look at the negative side of life will bring you down, she says; positive people will do the opposite.

“Choose wisely,” she says, then adds with a smile: “If that doesn’t work, it’s just straight booze. You’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do.”

The pandemic has taught her she doesn’t need “all this maintenance stuff,” such as hair color and nails. “When you don’t do all that stuff, everything gets strong. You realize when you do live without them, you’re actually stronger. We got a priority reset.

“The world, weirdly, snaps into focus. We have to decide what goes by the wayside.”

Kotb’s mother has also proven to be a good reality check.

She says her mom gets up every morning, walks to a coffee shop and talks with a friend, does Pilates on Zoom and still enjoys life.

“She’s right,” Kotb says. “If you look for goodness, you’ll find it. There is a bright side. You just have to find it.”

What “Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade” • When 9 a.m. Nov. 26 • Where NBC • More info nbc.com

"We have this thing where you can prop up an iPad on a chair. It’s weird, but it’s oddly normal. ... It’s not going to be like this every Thanksgiving … but we have to make some difficult choices.”

Hoda Kotb

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