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A parade for generations

By Bryan Goodland; photos courtesy of Macy’s


Photo of elephants at Macy's parade NY

Elephants at Macy’s parade

Whenever someone mentions Thanksgiving, family traditions immediately come to mind. Maybe your family gets up early to run in an annual Turkey Trot or they gather around the TV to watch the big game or maybe they tune into the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. If you do the latter, you’re not alone. In 2019, 50 million people watched the televised parade, and another 3.5 million people attended in person.

Macy’s took their business public in 1922 and opened their flagship New York store on 34th Street, in 1924. To celebrate the opening, Macy’s decided to throw a party of sorts for New York. In hopes it would get people in the mood for Christmas shopping, they held a parade on Thanksgiving Day.

The first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade took place on November 27, 1924. Included in the spectacle were floats patterned after scenes from familiar nursery rhymes. The window display at Macy’s featured a Mother Goose theme. Little Red Riding Hood, There was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe and other fictional character floats were also seen that day. In addition to the floats, four marching bands played. Courtesy of the Central Park Zoo, a menagerie of animals including bears, lions, elephants, camels and monkeys also joined in the fun. Although the animals were popular, Macy’s learned the children were afraid of the noises the animals made, so they would later be replaced by balloon characters. At the very end of the parade, Santa Claus appeared, which remains a tradition to this day.

Photo of Macy's float

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade throughout the years have unique floats

Throughout the years the parade has changed formats and styles. The original 6 ½-mile route was subsequently modified to today’s shorter 2 ½-mile route. As for the parade balloons, prior to helium, they were held up by sticks. The balloons were manufactured by the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Plant Company, and in the early days of the parade, the balloons were simply released into the air at the end of the parade. If people found them and returned them to the store, they would get a gift card to spend at Macy’s.

During WWII, the parade was canceled in 1942, 1943 and 1944, because of the need for rubber to support the war effort as well as helium shortages. It returned in 1945 and was televised locally by NBC. Then in 1947, the movie “Miracle on 34th Street” was released, and the parade was featured in the film. That following year NBC would broadcast the parade nationally.

This year, the 94th annual parade won’t travel down the traditional route. Instead the focus will be on the last segment of the march. All the signature balloons, floats, performances and the arrival of Santa will happen in front of Macy’s flagship store on 34th Street. Rather than gathering along the streets of New York, everyone can safely experience the parade from the comfort of their home. It airs on NBC, November 26th at 9 a.m. across the U.S.

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