Ultimate Guide to the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

By: Kathleen Seiler Neary  | 

Parade participants are seen during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Nov. 22, 2018, in New York City. John Lamparski/WireImage/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 90 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 Central Park South; veers onto Sixth Avenue; and ends in front of Macy's Herald Square. Covering two-and-a-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 immigrants — into a large-scale annual tradition. The parade showcases more than 8,000 participants, and crowds of more than 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.