CHARLOTTE, NC, November 22, 2017 – With the holidays kicking off on Thanksgiving, America’s two most iconic parades are always highlights of the season. The Tournament of Roses in Pasadena is the oldest dating to New Year’s Day in 1890 while the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade celebrates its 91st anniversary tomorrow down the streets of Manhattan.
Each is distinctive in its own way. One is a festival of flowers and the other is famous for it massive balloons that hover silently above hordes of onlookers lining the streets of New York below.
Both had humble beginnings, but today the holidays just wouldn’t be the same without them.
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade history
Considering the evolution of Black Friday and the massive commercialization of Christmas, it is difficult to believe that the Macy’s Parade was controversial in its day for “interfering with Thanksgiving worship.”
Making its debut in 1924, the parade was originally called the “Macy’s Christmas Parade” as a way to promote the flagship Manhattan business which was self-proclaimed as the “world’s largest store.”
Initially, the participants were largely comprised of store employees who strode the route from 145th Street before stopping at 34th Street in front of the Macy’s store.
Like the Little Red Caboose used to be, Santa Claus was, and still is, the traditional the end of the parade.
What time does the parade start?
The 91st Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade begins at 9 a.m. ET and will go until noon on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 22.
Where can I watch it? Where can I stream it?
NBC, the official broadcaster of the event, will be airing the parade in its entirety, with Today show hosts Matt Lauer, Savannah Guthrie, and Al Roker anchoring the broadcast. The network has partnered up with Verizon to provide a 360-degree live stream of the parade for those without cable TV subscriptions. You can watch the parade livestream below!
Who will be performing?
Gwen Stefani, Andy Grammer, 98 Degrees, Bebe Rexha, Flo Rida, Wyclef Jean, Patti LaBelle, and the Goo Goo Dolls are just a selection of the big names popping up along the avenues. Of course, The Radio City Rockettes™ will also be there to kick up a good time, and look out for musical performances from the casts of Broadway’s Anastasia, Dear Evan Hansen, and SpongeBob SquarePants.
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade balloons
By 1927, the name of the parade honored Thanksgiving instead of Christmas, but that year also established the tradition of character balloons which have been its hallmark ever since.
The “New York Times” described three massive balloons that made their debut on the third anniversary of the parade; a 60-foot dinosaur attended by a prehistoric caveman, a 21-foot “human behemoth” that had to crawl under the elevated structure at 66th and Broadway and a swaying 25-foot dachshund surrounded by other fowl of epic size.
Perhaps more significant for its day, was the appearance of the first character balloon.
Oddly enough, Felix the Cat went unmentioned by the Times.
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade Balloonatics
Earlier parades did have balloons but they were not the massive flying creatures that waft above the streets. The Balloonatics float was the source of inspiration for the later incarnations which are so popular today, and in tribute, the designers of the contemporary likenesses are called “Balloonatics.”
Among the early problems was the lack of a plan for deflating the balloons when the parade was over. At first they were released into the sky where they would pop after reaching a couple thousand feet.
By 1928, Macy’s released five of it largest character balloons into the air. Unlike most of the figures used in the parade which were filled with air, these characters were blown up using helium designed to slowly leak out allowing the balloons to remain aloft anywhere from a week to ten days.
The store offered $100 to anyone finding a balloon carcass and returning it to the store.
It wasn’t until 1934 that Mickey Mouse entered the arena with a 40-foot-high, 23-foot-wide representation that the “New York Times” wrote had to be “held down to Earth by twenty-five husky attendants.”
In that same year a real person was featured for the first time with the honor going to Vaudeville star and comedian Eddie Cantor.
WWII Halts the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade
Though World War II halted the parade from 1942-1944, it returned with a vengeance in 1945. In fact, there has only been one year since 1927 when the balloons did not fly, and that was due to high winds in 1971.
There was, however, a concern in 1958 that a helium shortage would force a cancellation. Macy’s quickly collaborated with the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company to come up with a solution, however.
Using giant cranes supplied by rigging specialists Traynor & Hanson, the balloons were dangled rather than floated. Motorized derricks with 70-foot booms were designed with special wood-and-steel hangars attached to the end to allow the balloons to be hoisted.
Problem solved and, to paraphrase the old saying, “the show must, and did, go on.”
Everyone’s favorite snowman from Disney‘s Frozen will be making his debut at this year’s parade as well as Chase from Paw Patrol. All the usual floating suspects, like the Red Power Ranger, SpongeBob SquarePants, and Macy’s classic tree decorations, will be flying by as well.
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade balloon trivia
All the floats have been designed by artists employed at Macy’s Parade Studio since 1968.
Balloons today are limited to 40-feet tall and 28-feet wide, but they must also fold down to fit into a 12 x 8 foot box so they can travel through the Lincoln Tunnel.
Today, the parade also features float-based balloons which are known as “falloons” which are a combination float/balloon that are, of course, transported by specially designed balloon vehicles called “balloonicles.”
First-time Macy’s balloons cost about $190,000 to create and $90,000 each year afterward.
So sophisticated has the operation become that balloon pilots walk backwards in front of the creations in order to direct volunteers holding the guide ropes. Macy’s holds three pilot’s classes each year.
It takes approximately 90 handlers for each balloon. Handlers must weigh at least 120 pounds and be in good physical health.
Balloons are under-inflated the day before the parade because helium expands in the sun. Thus, the method guarantees maximum “float” for the parade the following day,
Though he didn’t debut until 1968, Snoopy has made the most appearances with 39, though he has been characterized in seven different balloons.
Despite their size, balloons can be deflated in about 15 minutes. After that they are stored away until the following Thanksgiving, thereby yielding their popularity to Pasadena, where everything is coming up Roses for the New Year.
About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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