On Thanksgiving, there are four words that bring holiday cheer and excitement into the hearts of young and old alike: “Let’s have a parade!” Each year this phrase kicks off the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which has been wowing spectators for almost 90 years. Every year the parade introduces new and exciting additions, making it hard to remember where it all started.
Here’s a look at how the parade has changed over the years:
The World’s Largest Store
The parade got its start in 1924 when Macy’s expanded its flagship store in New York City. Advertised as a “marathon of mirth,” the event was meant to showcase the new store just in time for the holiday shopping season. The parade route began in Harlem and continued for six miles to the department store in Herald Square. The parade itself was only two city blocks, but it was filled with Macy’s employees dressed as nursery rhyme characters and a collection of animals from the Central Park Zoo, with Santa Claus bringing up the end of the parade on his sleigh. When Santa reached the store, he was crowned King of the Kiddies and unveiled a Christmas-themed window display that thrilled the children. The following day, Macy’s announced that the parade was such a success that they would make it a yearly tradition.
Enter the Balloons
After some time, the parade moved away from using live zoo animals and introduced balloons. The balloons were safer for all, but brought just as much excitement. The very first balloon appeared in 1927 and was none other than Felix the Cat. It became a brief tradition that the balloons would be released after the parade to float above New York City, and anyone who found deflated balloons could return them to receive a special gift from Macy’s.
In 1947 the event was broadcast across the nation for the first time. The balloons’ visibility on television made them an immediate attraction. Bob Hillman, who directed NBC’s first parade broadcast, wanted to make it just as exciting as it would be to stand there watching in person. He succeeded! In 1979, the parade won its first Emmy award, and has since received 11 more.
A Galaxy of Stars
In 1999, the parade’s producers announced that there would be a “galaxy of stars from stage, screen and television” added to the usual festivities. During the first hour of the parade, Broadway casts performed highlights from several shows, including Saturday Night Fever and Swing! In parades today, the balloons that once stole the show are rivaled by these performers and other musical talents.
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade grows and becomes more extravagant every year, and with each change comes more people. Fans who want to enjoy a behind-the-scenes experience of the parade can visit the Upper West Side to see the balloons come to life as they inflate before the main event.
Whether you are watching from home or joining the millions of people who line the parade route, this year’s parade is bound to be full of helium, music, excitement and holiday cheer. Happy Thanksgiving!