New York City: The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

By: Maxine Sheppard

November 14, 2018

© karmakazesal / Flickr Creative Commons CC by 2.0

© karmakazesal / Flickr Creative Commons CC by 2.0

Thanksgiving in New York

One of New York’s most celebrated annual events is almost upon us: the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Every year nearly four million people line the streets of Manhattan to watch one of the best loved processions in the world. The parade is how New York kicks off the holiday season and this November marks the event’s 93rd year. As usual there’ll be marching bands, performance troupes and the signature giant balloons of favourite cartoon and film characters – but it hasn’t always been this way. There were no balloons when the first parade was started by Macy’s employees back in 1924; instead it featured a host of animals from the Central Park Zoo!

The oversized balloons were not debuted until three years later, and on their first outing they were carried on sticks before being released into the sky, only to unexpectedly burst with a bang. The following year the balloons were safely redesigned with address labels attached in case any floated away. If you were lucky enough to find one, you could bring it back to Macy’s for a prize.

During World War II, the parade was suspended and all the balloons were deflated and donated to the government for the war effort. There was a severe rubber shortage at the time, and the combined weight of the balloons was about 650 pounds in total.

In 1947 the parade began to be televised nationally and it now reaches more than 50 million TV viewers and almost four million live spectators annually. The broadcast has even won twelve Emmys for Outstanding Achievement.

Macy’s own creative team started building floats for the parade in 1969, and the artists at Macy’s Parade Studio still design the floats (or ‘falloons’: floats with a balloon) to this day. Even though some of them can stand up to 40 feet tall, they’re ingeniously engineered to fold up so they can be brought into NYC via the Lincoln Tunnel on the day before the parade, and then hurriedly reassembled during the night for the 9 a.m. start.

This year’s parade will feature 21 giant character balloons, including characters from Paw Patrol, Dr Seuss’ The Grinch, Power Rangers and Trolls, and old favourites Pikachu and SpongeBob SquarePants. Also on the march will be 28 legacy balloons, 29 floats, 1,100 cheerleaders and dancers, 12 marching bands and over a thousand clowns. And, of course, the one and only Santa Claus.

If you’re visiting New York be sure to hit the streets early to grab a prime viewing spot for this magical spectacle. The parade departs from 77th Street and Central Park West at 9 a.m. but the best curbside viewing points are between 72nd Street/Central Park West and 61st Street. There’s also an official viewing area along 34th street, but this is by far the most crowded section of the route, so we recommended sticking to Central Park West.

© Adnan Islam / Flickr Creative Commons CC by 2.0

© slgckgc / Flickr Creative Commons CC by 2.0

© slgckgc / Flickr Creative Commons

© S Pakhrin / Flickr Creative Commons CC by 2.0

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade takes place next Thursday 22 November from 9 a.m. Love the Big Apple during the holidays? There’s still time to book your flights to New York for a festive winter break.

Maxine Sheppard

Maxine is the co-editor of the Virgin Atlantic blog. Travel and music are her joint first loves, and despite having written for Virgin for more years than she cares to remember she still loves nothing more than jumping on a plane in search of new sights and new sounds.

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