You don’t have to be from New York—or even have visited the city—to know that Thanksgiving and the Big Apple mean just one thing: the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. This year marks the 85th year that the historic event will travel its two-mile route, from 77th Street and Central Park West to 34th Street and 7th Avenue, to the delight of more than 30 million people lining the streets and an additional 50 million enjoying the festivities from the comfort of their own homes.
The parade, which originated in 1924 as the Macy’s Christmas Parade, began as a promotional stunt to get the department store noticed. Employees and professional entertainers dressed up in costumes and, together with animals from the Central Park Zoo, paraded from 125th Street in Harlem to the Macy’s store at Herald Square. The event was so successful that Macy’s decided to repeat it annually. At the end of that first parade, Santa Claus made his appearance at Herald Square, officially kicking off the holiday shopping season, a tradition that has concluded the parade ever since.
Interested in a little more parade history?
- The first balloon, Felix the Cat, was introduced in 1927 and produced by the Goodwin Tire and Rubber Company in Akron, Ohio. Felix was filled with air, but after that, balloons were filled with helium.
- The early balloons, made with address labels sewn into them, were released into the sky at the conclusion of the parade. Anyone who found one and mailed it back received a free gift from Macy’s.
- The parade was suspended during World War II (from 1942-1944) when rubber and helium were relegated to the war effort. It resumed in 1945 and has continued every year since.
- The parade was broadcast on local New York radio beginning in 1932. It was first covered on TV in 1948.
- The classic film Miracle on 34th Street, starring young Natalie Wood, features actual parade footage from 1946 and helped make the parade a permanent part of American culture.
- Since 1984, the balloons have been made by Raven Industries of Souix City, South Dakota.
- To improve safety, wind measuring devices are employed to alert parade organizers of unsafe conditions and, during particularly windy conditions, balloons are kept closer to the ground.
- If you think the parade is a treat, you can watch the balloons being inflated with helium the night before, on 77th and 81st streets between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue.
While it’s debatable as to whether the best views are curbside or in front of the TV, a view from a seventh floor window on Broadway several years ago gave me a whole new appreciation of the event. For a look at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade from a different vantage point, check out our “Bird’s Eye View” slideshow.
For everything you need to know about Thursday’s parade, visit Macy’s.