Image Gallery: Macy's Thanksgiving Parade
Image Gallery: Macy's Thanksgiving Parade

Image Gallery: Macy's Thanksgiving Parade Clowns precede a footbal during the Thanksgiving Day Parade. See more pictures of Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Stephen Chernin/Getty Images

On the fourth Thursday of the month, the same day that most Americans gather around the dining table and gobble turkey to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade marches through the streets of New York City. Elaborate floats, marching bands, clowns and celebrities create a carnivalesque atmosphere. But the main attraction is the parade's giant helium balloons, many of which are depictions of cartoon characters.

For more than 80 years, the parade has drawn spectators who line the streets and cheer on the participants. The parade currently starts its 43-block trek at 77th Street and Central Park West; travels south to Columbus Circle; turns onto Broadway; follows Broadway to 34th Street; turns west onto 34th Street right after the Macy's Herald Square store; and ends at Seventh Avenue. Covering two and half miles, the three-hour spectacle runs from 9 a.m. to noon.

The holiday event grew (and grew) over time from a small parade of floats and live animals organized by Macy's employees -- the majority of whom were emigrants -- into a large-scale annual tradition. The parade showcases 10,000 participants, and crowds of 2 to 3.5 million spectators cram Manhattan's streets for a close-up view. Another 50 million watch the parade on TV [source: Macy's].

In this article, we'll look at the history behind the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and how the parade's balloons and floats are created. We'll also look at some balloon-wrangling mishaps and learn about the logistics involved in staging a show for an audience of millions.

In the next section, we'll learn about the history behind the spectacle.­