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What is the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade?

Santa's arrival traditionally ends the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 25 August 2014
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The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade® is an American tradition that has lasted nearly a century. Since its inception, the parade has become known for its giant balloons, floats and musical performances. Estimates suggest that 2.5 million people visit the parade site on Thanksgiving morning each year, and the television coverage of the famous parade garners 44 million viewers.

Hosted by the employees of Macy’s department store in New York City, the first parade was put on in 1924 in celebration of Thanksgiving. As has been the tradition ever since, the parade ended with the arrival of Santa Claus, ringing in the coming Christmas Holidays. The event was immediately successful, and soon expanded in size and grandeur. In 1927, Felix the Cat was introduced, the first enormous balloon ever to float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. In 1929, giant balloons were released near the end of the parade that floated for several days, and had return address labels so that the eventual finders could send them back to Macy’s in exchange for a prize.

Throughout the 1930s, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade® continued to grow. In 1934, the characters of Walt Disney made their first appearance with a gigantic Mickey Mouse balloon. Between 1942-1944 the parade was forced to shut down as a result of World War II. Rubber shortages prevented the creation of new balloons, while the old ones were donated to the war effort for their rubber components.

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In 1945, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade® returned anew, and has continued without a halt ever since. Since the early 1950s, the parade has been broadcast on television, and has become a tradition for many American families to watch. As Thanksgiving is notorious for having solely evening activities, watching the parade is a great way to get through the hours separating you from your turkey and cranberries.

In addition to the main activity of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade®, New Yorkers and tourists also make a tradition of visiting the parade area the day before Thanksgiving. Visitors can watch as the enormous balloons are inflated and moved to their holding areas in preparation for the event. If you are visiting New York around Thanksgiving and would like to take part in this honored tradition, head over to the Museum of Natural History on the afternoon or evening before Thanksgiving, and look for your favorite balloons spread out to either side of the museum complex.

In addition to the balloons, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade® also features live musical performances. Not only do specially chosen high school and college marching bands perform in the parade, but delegations from Broadway musicals perform popular songs in nearby venues. Usually, the Broadway performances are from the hottest musicals in town, and feature the real stage cast. Famous mainstream singers also perform on the parade route, often from parade floats.

Not surprisingly, the handling of giant balloons has lead to some mishaps over the years. In 1957, the Popeye balloon caused a continual splash, when a sudden rainstorm filled his hat with water. The balloon spent much of the parade bumping from side to side, drenching already wet visitors with a deluge from his sailor cap. A 1997 disaster with the Cat in the Hat balloon left a parade-goer in a coma for a month, and prompted new safety restrictions on the balloon.

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade® is a time-honored tradition for Americans, and one that looks to be with us for many more years to come. It takes the drag out of the long wait for Thanksgiving dinner, and can be a great treat to New York City visitors. Between the balloons, detailed floats, and great performances, everyone can find something to enjoy when watching this historic parade.

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