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It’s the morning of Thanksgiving with the smell of turkey cooking and the sound of little feet running towards the TV because it’s almost time for the first big event —The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade!
Traditions begin on Thanksgiving early on that fourth Thursday of November to watch Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade before all the football fun begins. This annual tradition is quite the experience because people from all over get to watch their favorite characters and celebrities float through Central Park. So when and why exactly did this tradition begin?
The first parade began on Thanksgiving Day in 1924 by Macy’s, Inc. But what idea concocted the start of this iconic parade? That’s the big question! It turns out that Macy’s business was booming at this time due to the economic success that came about because of the Roaring Twenties. When the company generated this wealth, it allowed them to expand its most well-known storefront in Manhattan. This enormous expansion led to great things for the company’s future!
As a result, the store in Manhattan grew so large, one million square feet to be exact, it ended up taking up an entire city block. As most can probably assume, this was an incredibly groundbreaking step for Macy’s, especially in the 1920s. Macy’s began advertising for the parade to show off this new expensive storefront and kick off the Christmas shopping season. This parade was ultimately called The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and would broadcast on Thanksgiving morning, which occurred on November 27, 1924. Even though the parade was designed to highlight Thanksgiving Day, the true purpose was to get people on the topic of the upcoming Christmas season and raise the demand for Christmas shopping. This idea is demonstrated each year as the final presentation of the parade is Santa and his sleigh full of presents.
What might be surprising is that Macy’s was not the first to host a Thanksgiving parade. Philadelphia’s Gimbel Brothers Department Store developed this idea and hosted the very first Thanksgiving parade in 1920. Regardless, the first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was beyond successful. In that first parade, the most memorable floats were Little Red Riding Hood and Little Miss Muffet. These characters were selected because they coordinated with Macy’s holiday window display theme, which was focused on nursery rhymes. The first Macy’s parade showcased four different bands, some live animals from the Central Park Zoo, and Macy’s employees adorned in fun and exciting costumes.
Finally, the parade saved the best for last and ended with Santa Claus, Mrs. Clause, all the reindeer, and a big pile of presents. Back in 1924, people could tune in over the radio to listen to the commentating, but the event was not yet broadcasted on TV. All in all, the first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade stretched six miles, starting in Central Park and ending at the storefront of Macy’s Herald Square. Today, the parade only extends two and a half miles, which seems more appropriate since there are many characters, musical events, and notable attendees.
The first Macy’s parade was so successful that the company declared the next day that there would be another parade the following Thanksgiving. Thus, the tradition began. As time passed, the store decided that balloon characters would run the show instead of live animals being present. The first balloon character, Felix the Cat, floated through the parade in 1927, followed by other iconic characters such as Snoopy and Mickey Mouse.
Fun Fact: New York residents can see the balloon inflation process on Thanksgiving Eve — those lucky ducks!
In recent years, the parades have looked just a little different due to the pandemic. Slight changes were made where in-person attendance was nixed, but the show continued, and the tradition continued through television broadcasting. No matter what improvisions the beloved Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade may endure, it will always serve as one of the greatest traditions on Thanksgiving Day. Many are thankful that it sets the stage for the holiday spirit to commence!
Written By: Sara Frost
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