History of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
November 22, 2019
As Thanksgiving approaches, New York City prepares for one of its most iconic holiday traditions: the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. This parade has been held almost every year since the 1920s and serves as free entertainment for millions of people across the United States.
What many people don’t know is that the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade actually started as a Christmas parade. The giant retail store wanted to get people excited for holiday shopping that year, so they hosted a parade the morning of November 27, 1924.
According to History.com, the parade featured fairy tale character floats, such as Mother Goose, Little Miss Muffet, and Little Red Riding Hood. The employees of Macy’s dressed up as cowboys, clowns, and knights. The parade also borrowed animals from the Central Park Zoo, including elephants, monkeys, bears, and camels.
These animals ended up scaring the children in attendance, so they were later replaced with the now iconic character balloons in 1927. Howstuffworks.com cites that in 1928, Macy’s actually released the balloons into the air and offered $100 to anyone who could retrieve one. This was brought to an end, however, after the giant balloons caused several plane crashes.
In 1934, celebrities started to be featured in the parade, with vaudeville performer Eddie Cantor joining the event. According to Macy’s, there was also a helium balloon of Eddie Cantor in the procession, the only time in Macy’s has ever featured a celebrity on a balloon (rightfully so, considering how frightening it looked).
The only years Macy’s didn’t host the parade were from 1942 to 1944 because of a shortage of helium and rubber, which were in high demand during World War II. When the parade returned in 1945, it was the first time the parade was ever broadcast on television.
According to Macy’s, the parade first featured the Rockettes in 1958 and the late 1970s is when Broadway shows were first invited to perform. The 1980s featured bigger and more exciting floats and also more advanced balloons that moved past just simple geometric shapes. The 1990s brought along twice as many balloons, and ever since then the parade has continued to grow.
This year is the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade’s 161st anniversary. The parade will feature 26 floats, 16 helium character balloons, 40 helium “novelty” balloons, and 11 marching bands. Be sure to tune in Thanksgiving morning!