Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade remains among the oldest and most famous holiday parades in New York City.
Keep reading to discover why and learn about the fascinating effort it takes to keep this long-standing tradition going.
Quick Things to Know about Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
If you plan to attend this annual holiday tradition, you must be well prepared. Due to its popularity, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade receives thousands of visitors yearly.
It also has quite a considerable number of television followers as it airs live on NBC.
1. The History of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
The first parade was in 1924, snaking along Broadwalk Street, almost 7 miles long.
Macy’s was celebrating expanding their store to the largest in the country, as it covered an entire block in Manhattan Herald Square.
The original parade consisted of animals, elephants taking the lead, and horses pulling the carriages carrying performers.
Today, tow vehicles replace horse carriages; the main attraction is giant floating balloons in various characters.
Marching bands and performers also grace the occasion, making it colorful. It is a wonder it survived the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic, even with most activities on lockdown.
2. Streets Closures
You may be wondering how to maneuver Manhattan during the parade. The Metro train schedule changes to accommodate the millions of visitors, with more trains coming in and out of Manhattan.
However, most roads and streets in a large section of New York City remain closed. The common ones are:
- Streets along 6th Avenue
- Streets along 8th Avenue
- Several streets on Broadwalk
- Several streets between 5th and 8th Avenues
Watch out for road closure signs and notifications in advance to avoid access inconveniences.
3. The Visitors
The city estimates that over 3 million people visit New York annually to watch Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
If you travel for this event, be ready almost to get lost in the crowd.
The streets are packed to capacity, and if you have children, carefully watch them as the masses keep moving.
4. What Time it Starts
Officially, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade starts at 9 am. However, you can get to the city a day early to watch the inflation of the balloons.
If you want a good watching spot, show up before 9 am as the streets get huge crowds.
It is common to find people gathering as early as 5 am, which is unnecessary.
Instead, wake up by 7 am, have an early breakfast, and identify your spot by 8 am.
5. How to Join the Parade
Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has over 6000 participants yearly, mainly staff members and invited people.
Although it is possible to participate in the parade, the available slots are highly competitive.
Applications are open all year, and the selection process is thorough. Above all, it is unpaid, and teams train extensively to bring the year’s best show.
6. Duration of the Parade
Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is a 3-hour event that begins at 9 am and ends at noon.
However, the duration depends on the crowd’s length, although the route is usually less than 3 miles long.
Plan to spend at least 4-5 hours in Manhattan, considering travel time to the city where necessary.
7. What to Carry
Since you will spend approximately 4 hours during the parade, there are a few essentials you should bring.
- Enough bottles of water for you and your family or friends.
- A camera or phone to take photographs and videos.
- Healthy fruits or snacks such as bananas, apples, and granola bars.
- A warm coat, rain jacket, or umbrella in case it rains.
Above all, bring a cheerful spirit as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade procession is fun to watch and cheer on.
8. What to Wear
November marks the end of fall, and New York City is chilly mainly on Thanksgiving Day. Wear warm clothes to prepare for Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which also starts early.
9. Where to Watch From
If you are a spectator of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the spot you pick will be it for the duration of the event.
Due to the number of people on the streets, moving around may be a challenge.
The procession also covers the entire route, meaning every spot is good as they will pass through it.
However, the largest crowd gathers towards the end of the route, along 34th Street. To avoid it, consider settling uptown, where the parade begins.
10. Availability of Amenities
Although one can easily find a public restroom or walk into an open cafe or restaurant, going before the parade begins is ideal.
Moving among the large crowd is almost impossible, and you risk losing your viewing spot.
Some are free to use, but for others, you may have to purchase something before requesting to use their facilities.
Fun Facts about Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
- Over 3 million spectators attend the parade annually, while another 40 million stream it on TV.
- Although the first parade was on Thanksgiving day, it was a Christmas parade with a long Santa Claus procession.
- In 1924, the year of the initial parade, the procession comprised mainly animals from Central Park Zoo and circus members’ floats.
- As a nationwide attraction, it takes planners approximately 18 months to plan the perfect Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
- The giant balloons take days to fabricate, weigh over 400 pounds, and must stay inflated for over 5 hours. The talented team that creates them is known as ‘The Balloonatics.’
- The giant balloon specialists who steer and keep them up through the parade are known as Balloon Pilots. Although they are volunteers and Macy’s employees, they receive several rounds of training to do the job correctly.
- Due to the size and number of balloons on display, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade consumes the second-highest amount of helium countrywide.
- For the several decades the parade has been running, it was only canceled once. For two years during World War 2, helium and rubber were common on the war front, and the government reserved both materials.
- Float drivers begin the parade on Wednesday night when they journey from the assembly warehouse in New Jersey to Manhattan.
- For over 30 years since the 80s, GMCs were the official towing vehicles before the change to RAM in 2015.
- The parade’s route has changed several times, although Broadway Street was popular for the first few years.
- You can watch the inflation of the balloons a day before the event. Visitors flock to the American Museum of Natural History, where the giant balloons come to life.
Besides the numerous floats, inflated balloon characters, and marching bands, musical celebrities honor the occasion by performing live.
The massive display at Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade also signifies the start of the Christmas season. It is the best show to end a year and a fun way to usher in the holidays.
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