For millions of Americans, watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade is as traditional as eating candied yams and pumpkin pie. Its origins go back to 1924, when the first parade was held. But back then, it was feted as the Macy’s Christmas parade, and like today, it heralded the beginning of the festive season.
In the 1920s, Macy’s department store in New York employed many first-generation immigrants to the United States. They wanted to show their new-found love for all things American with an extravaganza rooted in European traditions.
On Thanksgiving Thursday 1924, the first parade featured colourful horse-drawn floats, marching bands and elephants from the Central Park zoo.
In 1927, the animals were given the day off when the first giant floating balloons appeared – a hallmark of the celebrations down to the present day. A giant Felix The Cat, made by the Goodyear, floated above the cheering crowds.
Past balloons have included Mickey Mouse in 1934, Popeye in 1957 and Betty Boop in 1985. Snoopy, sometimes accompanied by Woodstock, has made numerous appearances over the years and is perhaps the character most closely associated with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
These days, it takes about a year to design, model and build the balloons. Then all the balloons are brought together for ‘balloonfest’, when they are given a final test flight before the big day.
This year, the 88th parade will begin on 77th Street, turn left at the corner of Central Park and proceed down 6th Avenue. It’ll finish outside Macy’s on 34th Street – a route of around two and a half miles.
Three and half million people are expected to crowd the pavements, while another 50 million will gather around the television.