New York: The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

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 witness what is probably the most famous 2½ mile march in the world.


Clumsy smurf in the Macy's day parade © Kent Miller

Clumsy smurf in the Macy’s day parade © Kent Miller


The parade is New York’s way of kicking off the holiday season and this year marks the event’s 85th anniversary. 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!

It wasn’t until three years later that the big balloons were debuted, 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!


Spiderman balloon being inflated for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

Giant Spiderman balloon being inflated for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade


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 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 three million live spectators annually. The broadcast has even won twelve Emmys for Outstanding Achievement.


Kung Fu Panda in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade © Kent Miller

Kung Fu Panda in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade © Kent Miller


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.


Hello Kitty balloon at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

Hello Kitty balloon at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade


This year’s parade will feature 15 giant character balloons, including Buzz Lightyear, SpongeBob SquarePants, Snoopy the Flying Ace, and a new Tim Burton creation. Also on the march will be 44 ornament balloons, 27 floats, 1,600 cheerleaders and dancers, 11 marching bands and 800 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 outside Macy’s at 9am but the best curbside viewing points are along Central Park South, Central Park West, 6th Avenue between 34th and 42nd streets and 7th Avenue between 48th and 59th streets.

About 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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