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Ultimate Guide to the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

History of the Macy's Parade

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
Balloon handlers march in the Thanksgiving Day Parade, Jan. 29, 1929. Underwood Archives/Getty Images

Macy's department store celebrated its 162nd anniversary in 2020. The store staged its first Thanksgiving Day parade in 1924. That year it was called the Macy's Christmas Parade, and it followed a route from 145th Street and Convent Avenue to the Macy's store at 34th Street and Broadway. Three floats (pulled by horses), four bands and zoo animals from the Central Park Zoo — camels, donkeys, elephants and goats — starred in the parade. Santa Claus was last in the lineup, a tradition that continues to this day.

The parade took shape during the Roaring Twenties, a time of prosperity and pleasure. It was staged by Macy's employees, many of whom emigrated to America from Europe and longed to stage a celebration similar to the ones in their countries.

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In 1927, the gigantic balloons that are now the signature element of the parade made their first appearance with the help of helium. The balloons replaced the zoo animals that were frightening to some children, and the first balloons included cartoon characters like Felix the Cat.

At the conclusion of the parade, the giant balloons were released into the air. In 1928, Macy's began offering a $100 reward for any returned balloons, which were affixed with return address labels [source: McCarthy]. In 1931, pilot Col. Clarence E. Chamberlain snagged a balloon with his airplane's wing, leading to a ban on retrieval by airplanes the following year. But after the 1932 parade, another pilot attempted to capture a balloon and nearly crashed, leading Macy's to discontinue releasing the balloons at the parade's end [source: McCarthy].

In 1934, celebrities became an important element of the parade, with singer-actor Eddie Cantor joining the event that year. The Mickey Mouse helium balloon was also introduced to paradegoers.

From 1942 to 1944, the parade was canceled because of the shortage of helium and rubber during World War II. Those three years are the only time the celebration has been called off [source: Macy's]. When the parade returned in 1945, it was broadcast on television for the first time and was bigger than earlier versions.

Every year, the Macy's team behind the parade works to outdo the previous year's event. This evolution has meant bigger balloons, more floats, better materials and new technologies, all resulting in the flashy spectacle that rolls through the streets of New York today.

In 2020, Macy's celebrates its 94th parade with 26 floats, 18 giant helium character balloons, 16 performers and nine street performances [source: Macy's]. In 2020, Macy's is not marching down the streets of Manhattan and is instead concentrating its efforts on showing off all the balloons, floats and performances right by its flagship store at 34th Street while incorporating safety measures like social distancing for participants. They're also encouraging people to watch the event on TV.

In the next section, we'll look at how the iconic balloons and elaborate floats are constructed.

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade FAQ

How Many Miles Is the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade?
The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade stretches 2.5 miles (4 kilometers), typically starting at 77th Street and Central Park West and ending in front of Macy's flagship store at Herald Square (at 34th Street).
Is the Macy's Day Parade Still On?
Yes, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is still happening in 2020 on Thanksgiving. However, Macy's is not marching down the streets of Manhattan and is instead concentrating efforts on showing off all the parade's balloons, floats and performances right by their flagship store at 34th Street. Macy's is encouraging people to watch the event on TV.
Where Does the Macy's Day Parade Start?
The parade usually begins at 77th Street and Central Park West at 9 a.m. In 2020, however, the parade is not marching down the streets of Manhattan as it typically does.
Where Can I Watch the Macy's Day Parade?
The Macy's Thanksgiving parade will air in the U.S. on NBC and CBS on Thanksgiving morning. You can also livestream it through the NBC and CBS apps.
What Is the Last Float in the Macy's Parade?
As is the tradition, the last float of the parade carries Santa Claus, ushering in the start of the Christmas season.
Why Did Macy's Start the Thanksgiving Day Parade?
The parade took shape during the Roaring Twenties, a time of prosperity and pleasure in the U.S. It was staged by Macy's employees, many of whom emigrated to America from Europe and longed to stage a celebration similar to the ones in their countries.

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