It’s the fourth Thursday in November which means it must be time to wish our readers in the United States a very happy Thanksgiving Day.
To celebrate, we’re taking a quick peek at one of Thanksgiving’s most celebrated events: the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City. More than three million people line Manhattan’s streets every year to watch what is probably the most famous two-and-a-half mile march in the world.
The parade is New York’s way of kicking off the holiday season and this November marks the event’s 91st year. As usual there’ll be marching bands, performance troupes and the signature giant helium 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 big 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 and address labels were 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 50 million viewers and more than three 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 9am start.
This year’s parade will feature 17 giant character balloons, including characters from Paw Patrol, Dr Seuss’ The Grinch, Olaf from Disney’s Frozen, and old favourites Hello Kitty and SpongeBob SquarePants. Also on the march will be 28 legacy balloons, 26 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 ensure a prime viewing spot for this magical spectacle. The parade departs from 77th Street and Central Park West at 9am 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.
Love the Big Apple during the holidays? There’s still time to book your flights to New York for a festive winter break.