90 Years of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

By Haley Gottfried
For Unwind magazine

The roaring twenties ushered in a tidal wave of changes; women began to feel liberated from their traditional gender roles, the economy underwent vast expansion and individuals living in rural areas decided to take advantage of the rapid urbanization by moving to cities.

With all these social and economic changes underway, the 20s also managed to supply one other American staple: The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

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According to Time magazine, this classic celebration originated in 1924 but was not associated with Thanksgiving until later on. Instead, the first parade was hosted Christmas Day.

An estimated 250,000 people flocked to the first Macy’s parade to celebrate the opening of its largest store. They lined the streets to witness creative floats, a procession of zoo animals from Central Park, a marching band and Macy’s employees dressed as different characters.

According to history.com, “To match the nursery-rhyme theme in Macy’s Christmas window display in 1924, floats featured Mother Goose favorites such as ‘The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe’, ‘Little Miss Muffet’ and ‘Little Red Riding Hood.’”

Three years later, the parade coordinators realized that large crowds frightened the featured zoo animals, and they decided to replace them with something a bit bigger: massive inflatable balloon characters. Hence the famous balloons were born, the first being Felix the Cat.

The parade continued as a yearly tradition until World War II, when from 1942-1944 it took a break due to helium and rubber shortages. However, 1946 marked a significant stepping point for this tradition because it was the first time the parade was broadcasted on local television. As the years progressed the parade became more detailed; musical icons and actors began performing atop the floats, the famous Radio City Rockettes marched and performed, and the Bugs Bunny balloon was paraded for the first time in 1966.

This yearly event is also used to commemorate significant points in American history. For instance, in the parade following the Sept. 11, terrorist attacks, firefighters and policemen carried a large American flag throughout the duration of the parade to symbolize the nation’s strong pride and sense of spirit.

Today the parade continues to grow; the New York Daily News reports that in 2004, “Spongebob Squarepants…floated along with 59 other balloons and 27 floats.”

With those numbers in mind, and new cartoon balloons being debuted every year to reflect changing entertainment trends, it’s no surprise the number of viewers nationwide has skyrocketed to nearly 50 million. The number of participants has also reached around 4,000, which is in accordance with the increasing number of balloons in need of handlers.

On Nov. 24, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will celebrate its 90th anniversary. According to the Macy’s website, viewers can expect a variety of different balloons such as Hello Kitty, Ice Age’s Scrat and his acorn, Spongebob Squarepants, and Pikachu. Along with the traditional floats like Santa’s Sleigh and the Big Apple, floats with themes of Sesame Street, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and KFC will also be featured. Macy’s won’t give away all it’s secrets, though. Those who want to see the full lineup will have to tune into NBC at 9 a.m. (EST) to see what other surprises are in store!

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