The History of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade


NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

MACY’S THANKSGIVING DAY PARADE — Pictured: Tom Turkey Float at the 93rd Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City on Thursday November 28, 2019 — (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Marifel Miguel, Editor

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade has been a beloved Thanksgiving Day Parade for almost a century.

Families all around the world wake up early on Thanksgiving Day to watch the 60ft balloons light up the sky, get a taste of Broadway, watch some of the most popular singers at the moment perform on the floats, and see Santa Claus bring holiday magic to New York, all from the comfort of their own home.

The Macy’s Thanksgiving day parade means a lot to not only the people watching, but to America as a whole. The parade is a symbol of hope and perseverance such as the parade still going on in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks, going through the Great Depression, and even recently in 2020, even though we didn’t get to experience the full magnitude of the parade, we still got to see it despite the rough year we had.

This year the parade will be celebrating its 95th year and will be back in full swing with live performances, marching bands from all over the country, and our favorite giant balloons. Even though we all seem to know about the parade and why it’s important, not many people seem to know the actual history behind it.

For instance, did you know the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade started as the Macy’s Christmas Day Parade? On November 27, 1924 Macy’s’ employees marched the streets in vibrant costumes, the parade featured live performances, floats, and animals borrowed from the Central Park Zoo. They did this to celebrate the opening of the Macy’s store on 34th street in New York. 

Just like the way all of the parades since then have ended, the first one concluded with Santa Claus: except this time he was enthroned on the Macy’s balcony at the 34th Street store entrance.

The parade was such a success that they decided to make it an annual event. The parade continued into the ’30s with a new name, switching from the Christmas Parade to the Thanksgiving Parade. The reason as to why the switch occurred is because the parade happened on Thanksgiving and Macy’s took inspiration from Philadelphia’s Gimbel Brothers Department Store who had staged a Thanksgiving Parade in their town, and another Macy’s in Detroit who did so as well.

Another reason for the switch was the realization that New York doesn’t have any Thanksgiving events or parades, other than the tradition of children painting their faces and wearing tattered clothes to look like “ragamuffins”(which was not popular at all and everyone hated it). The most significant switch, however, was switching from live animals (which at the time terrified the spectators and the marchers) to balloons. The crowds got bigger and the parade was broadcast on local radio stations from 1932 – 1941. 

The only times the parade was suspended was from 1942-1944 during World War II due to rubber and helium being needed for the war effort. But the parade resumed in 1945 and became known nationwide after footage of the parade was featured in the 1947 film Miracle on 34th Street. 1948 also marked a significant year for the parade since it was the first time it was broadcast on network television.

Some extra fun facts about the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade are:

  • The coldest parade day was in  2018 when the temperature was at 19 degrees and the warmest was in 1933 with the temperature was 69 degrees
  • The Mickey Mouse balloon was first featured in the 1934 parade
  • Most performances are lip-synced due to the technical difficulties of attempting to sing into a wireless microphone while in a moving vehicle
  •  The only time the parade balloons have ever been grounded was in 1971 due to the windy conditions
  • Back when the parade first started the balloons were released into the air and if you found one you could return it to Macy’s for a prize. This was stopped due to many incidents regarding the balloons clashing with aircraft and people getting into altercations trying to claim the balloons.
  • Hawthorne was involved in the Macy’s’ Thanksgiving Parade. The Hawthorne Caballeros Drum and Bugle Corps made an appearance in the parade in 1972!

Whether you watch the parade or not, you cannot deny how delightful it truly is to watch these balloons light up the sky on Thanksgiving morning and it’s super exciting to see that the parade will be back to its former glory.

If you’ve never seen the parade or if you haven’t seen it in a while make sure to tune in at 9:00 am eastern time on Thursday, November 25 2021 only on NBC!