The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is an annual event held in New York City by the American department store chain Macy's. It is the world's largest parade, and its second-oldest, having started in 1924. The event is held in Manhattan from 9:00 a.m. to noon on Thanksgiving Day and has been televised nationally on NBC since 1952.
The annual Thanksgiving Day parade has its origins in an earlier parade held in Newark, New Jersey and presented by Bamberger's. This parade was transferred to Macy's and to New York in 1924. Many of Macy's department store employees at the time were first-generation European immigrants, who were proud of their new American heritage and wanted to celebrate the American holiday of Thanksgiving with the type of festival their parents had loved in Europe. As has been the case with every parade since, the first Macy's Parade featured floats, professional bands, employees dressed in vibrant costumes, and concluded with the arrival of Santa Claus into Herald Square. However, unlike today's parades, there were live animals borrowed from the Central Park Zoo.
The live animals were replaced in 1927 by large animal-shaped balloons produced by Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. The annual festivities were broadcast on New York's local radio stations from 1932 to 1941, and then from 1945 to 1951. The parade was suspended from 1942 to 1944 due to World War II, when the rubber and helium used for the balloons was needed for the war effort. It resumed in 1945, and became known nationwide through a prominent appearance in the movie Miracle on 34th Street and broadcasts on network television.
- Main article: Balloons
One of the most iconic features of the Macy's Parade is its balloons, which are usually full-sized and modeled after licensed pop culture characters. The first set of licensed character balloons, modeled after The Katzenjammer Kids, appeared in 1927. Felix the Cat later entered the parade in 1931 as the first solo character balloon, and three years later, he was joined by Mickey Mouse, who has appeared in three additional versions since then.
Other characters that have been licensed into Macy's Parade balloons over the years have included Snoopy (with seven versions), Ronald McDonald (with four versions), Popeye, Smokey Bear, Kermit the Frog, Woody Woodpecker, Garfield, Raggedy Ann, Betty Boop, Spider-Man, Snuggle Bear, Big Bird, the Pink Panther, Bugs Bunny, Clifford the Big Red Dog, Sonic the Hedgehog, Barney the Dinosaur, the Cat in the Hat, Peter Rabbit, Curious George, Pikachu, SpongeBob SquarePants, Scooby-Doo, Dora the Explorer, Mr. Potato Head, Hello Kitty, and Buzz Lightyear.
Macy's has also featured its own "novelty balloons," which are smaller in size and are handled by up to 30 people, whereas the larger character balloons are handled by up to 90.
Over the years, many Macy's Parade balloons have gotten into accidents and caused injuries. In 2006, new safety measures were incorporated to prevent these incidents from occurring often, if not eliminate the possibility of them altogether. New wind measurement devices were installed to alert parade organizers to any unsafe conditions that could cause the balloons to behave erratically. Parade officials also implemented a measure where balloons are kept closer to the ground during windy conditions, and are forbidden to fly in winds higher than 34 miles per hour.
- Main article: Floats
Another key component of the parade is its magnificent floats, decorated platforms built on vehicles which often feature famous celebrities and musicians. The oldest and most recurring, Tom Turkey, was introduced in 1971. The parade has featured floats based on Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, the Care Bears, Barney & Friends, Delta Airlines, Animal Planet, Fisher-Price, Barbie, and M&M's, among other brands. Macy's, likewise, has created its own floats, including Santaland Express, the Marion Carole Showboat, and a "Gift of Freedom" float featuring the Statue of Liberty.
Performers and acts
College and high school marching bands from across the country participate in the parade, and the television broadcasts also feature performances by established and up-and-coming singers and bands, as well as performances by the casts of Broadway shows. The Rockettes of Radio City Music Hall are a classic performance as well, having performed annually since 1957 as the last of the pre-parade music acts to perform. Also featured are cheerleaders and dancers chosen by the National Cheerleaders Association from various high schools across the country. The last person to appear in the parade is Santa Claus, who concludes the event by arriving into Herald Square to ring in the Christmas and holiday season.
The annual telecast of the parade is watched by more than 44 million people. It was first televised locally in 1939 as an experimental broadcast, then began to broadcast regularly in 1945. The parade began its network television appearances on CBS in 1948, the year that major, regular television network programming began.
NBC has been the official broadcaster of the event since 1952. The telecast was originally an hour long, but expanded to two hours in 1961 (reduced to 90 minutes from 1962 to 1965), before adopting its present three-hour length in 1969. NBC airs the Macy's Parade live in the Eastern Time Zone, but tape-delays the broadcast elsewhere in the United States from the Central Time Zone westward to allow it to air in the same timeslot across all its affiliates. The Macy's Parade telecast has been honored with nine Emmy Awards for Outstanding Achievement in Special Event Coverage, the earliest awarded in 1979.
For its first decade, NBC's coverage was originally hosted by Dave Garroway. He was replaced in 1962 by Lorne Greene and Betty White, who hosted the telecast through 1971. Ed McMahon, who had been a co-host in 1971, became lead host in 1972. Starting in 1982, NBC has appointed at least one of the hosts from The Today Show to emcee its coverage; since approximately 1989, parade telecasts have been hosted only by personalities from the morning news program. Today personalities who have hosted NBC's coverage of the parade include: Bryant Gumbel (who hosted from 1982 to 1987), the show's longtime weatherman Willard Scott (who hosted from 1987 to 1997), Deborah Norville (1989-1990), Katie Couric (who hosted through the entirety of her tenure with the show, from 1991 to 2005), Matt Lauer (who has been the lead host since 1998), Meredith Vieira (from 2006 to 2010), Ann Curry (for the 2011 telecast only), and Savannah Guthrie (since 2012). In the 1980s, Gumbel and Scott were accompanied by several co-hosts from shows other than Today, including Mary Hart, Sandy Duncan, and Pat Sajak. Today weatherman Al Roker joined the parade in 1995, and has since served as the "uptown" host, whose main roles include cutting a ribbon with the Macy's executive producer to start the parade proper, and interviewing celebrities who are watching the parade from its start at 77th Street.
In addition to hosting the Macy's Parade telecast itself, Scott appeared in two later parades as a participant: in 2001 (where he was the "Pilgrim" riding the Tom Turkey float) and 2007 (where he rode a 1925 Pierce-Arrow Town Car with the Macy's "Parade Queen" for that year). In a special behind-the-scenes show aired during the parade's 85th anniversary in 2011, Scott was called "unpredictable" and the most fortunate of all the hosts of the parade telecast; in that same special, he also said "I feel that I've got it all," and that upon his eventual death, he would be able to "go into peace and glory" believing that his hosting duties would somehow merit him a restful afterlife in Heaven.
From the early 1980s to 1994, the television broadcast was produced and directed by Dick Schneider, and written by Beryl Pfizer. In 1994, Schneider was replaced by executive producer Brad Lachman, producer Bill Bracken, and director Gary Halvorson. Halvorson was replaced as director in 2015 by Ron de Moraes. Recent parades have been written by Tony Garofalo (1994-2006) and Mark Waxman (since 2007). Parade personnel for Macy's have included executive producers Jean McFaddin (from 1977 to 2000), Robin Hall (2001-2010), and Amy Kule (since 2010); and creative directors William Schermerhorn (1994-2015) and Wesley Whatley (since 2014).
Announcements during the parade telecast were originally provided by Don Pardo, who for some years during the Scott era was replaced by Lynda Lopez, the telecast's only female announcer. By the mid-1990s, Pardo was replaced by Late Night announcer Joel Godard, who helmed these duties until 2011, when Today announcer Les Marshak replaced him.
For years, the musical director for the television coverage was veteran composer/arranger Milton DeLugg, who was replaced by Ray Chew in 2014. Since 1997, the opening theme tune for NBC's parade telecast (heard during the introductory cast and performer roll) has been an instrumental of Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York." Originally and for many years the song was heard in a special marching band arrangement, but after being briefly replaced by Kool and the Gang's song "Celebration" in 2014, "New York, New York" returned the next year in a new arrangement faithful to Sinatra's original recording. For many years, the parade telecast's closing theme tune (heard during Santa's arrival and the sign-offs and credit roll) was a medley of various arranged Christmas song instrumentals (ending with a fanfare featuring the NBC chimes); but in 2014, the broadcast gained a new closing theme song, an original composition called "Here Comes Dear Santa Claus."
NBC's rival network CBS, which has a studio in Times Square, carries unauthorized coverage of the parade under the title The Thanksgiving Day Parade on CBS. Its telecast was originally known as The All-American Thanksgiving Day Parade and included footage from multiple parades across America, including parades at Detroit, Philadelphia, Disneyland, Opryland USA, and Miami Beach. Beginning in 2004, CBS has focused exclusively on the Macy's Parade, but due to lack of an official license, is forbidden to use the Macy's name. As NBC holds rights to the parade, it has exclusivity over the broadcast of Broadway and music performances appearing in the parade; so as a result of that, CBS airs its own live performances separate from those seen in the parade. CBS still continues to cover the parade even after Macy's chose to reroute it in 2012 out of the view of their cameras. Additionally, CBS Radio provides radio coverage of the parade on its New York City station WINS (1010 AM), and Verizon has broadcast virtual-reality live coverage of the parade made available on YouTube.
Starting in the 1930s, the balloons were inflated in the area of 110th Street and Amsterdam Avenue near St. John the Divine Cathedral. The parade proceeded south on Amsterdam Avenue to 106th Street and turned east. At Columbus Avenue, the balloons had to be lowered to go under the IRT Ninth Avenue Line. Past the tracks, the parade proceeded through 106th Street to Central Park West and turned south to terminate at the Macy's department store. This route endured until 2009.
Starting in 2009, a new route was established. From 77th Street and Central Park West, the route went south along Central Park to Columbus Circle, then east along Central Park South. The parade would then make a right turn at 7th Avenue and go south to Times Square. At 42nd Street, the parade turned left and went east, then at 6th Avenue turned right again at Bryant Park. Heading south on 6th Avenue, the parade turned right at 34th Street (at Herald Square) and proceeded west to the terminating point at 7th Avenue. The 2009 route change eliminated Broadway completely, where the parade has traveled down for decades. The route was changed to provide more space for the parade, more viewing space for spectators, and to correspond with the city's plan to turn Broadway into a pedestrian-only zone at Times Square. In 2012, the parade route was changed again, to eliminate Times Square altogether.
It is not advised to view the parade from Columbus Circle, as balloon teams race through it due to higher winds in this flat area. New York City officials preview the parade route and try to eliminate as many potential obstacles as possible, including rotating overhead traffic signals out of the way.
In popular culture
- Main article: Macy's Parade in popular culture
Over the years, the Macy's Parade has been represented or parodied in a number of films and television shows, and franchises represented by balloons or floats have referenced the parade at various points.
- Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, by Robert Grippo (published 2004 by Arcadia Publishing)
- Holidays on Display, by William L. Bird Jr. (published 2007 by the Smithsonian Institution)