Published November 11, 2011 by
America’s best loved parade, The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, is now a historical icon of American culture. Most people cannot imagine Thanksgiving Day without it. It’s easily recognized as the official kickoff to the holiday season. Americans young and old eagerly await the parade that brings larger than life helium balloons, Santa, and millions of audience members to the streets of New York.
How did this tradition get started? In 1924, Macy’s was already a leading department store in Manhattan. As a way for its immigrant workers to celebrate their new American culture, Macy’s organized the first parade that year. It was originally called the Macy’s Christmas Parade until its name was changed officially to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. It is so well-known now that people often refer to it as the Macy’s Day Parade.
That first year there were no oversized balloons marching down the sidewalks. Instead, live animals were borrowed from the Central Park Zoo. For various reasons, including the safety issues of parading live animals, the parade began to feature balloons in 1927. Goodyear Rubber and Tire made the balloons, the first of which was Felix the Cat. Balloons are inflated the night before the parade outside of the Museum of Natural History, and the public is invited to watch.
The parade started at 145th Street in Harlem and marched its way to the Macy’s building at 34th Street. In 2009, the parade route was changed to eliminate Broadway, where it has marched every year, so that more viewers can see the parade. Millions line the streets to watch as floats adorned with roses and manned by celebrities and animated characters march past them. Each year bands compete to be awarded the honor of marching in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Professional athletes, starlets, Broadway stars, and ordinary people march in the parade, many of them Macy’s employees.
The parade became a permanent fixture in American history after it was featured in the 1947 film Miracle on 34th Street. Actual footage of the 1946 parade was made a part of the film which forever immortalized the festivities.
The parade has run every year since 1924 except from 1942-1944 when the parade was canceled due to WWII. The rubber and helium necessary for the balloons was needed for the war effort. The parade was back on again for 1945. In 2006, parade organizers, noting a world-wide shortage of helium, proposed excluding the balloons from the parade, but public outcry got the balloons back up again. From that point, fewer balloons have been a part of the parade.
Since 2002, the balloons and floats have made their way to Orlando, Florida after the parade where they are marched down the streets of Universal Orlando Resort. Guests are given the opportunity to be balloon handlers for a day.
Each year a different character is featured in balloon form as an older one is retired. Broadway shows are also featured complete with the stars and performers from the production.
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is a piece of Americana recognized and cherished by more people than any other parade.