On November 23, Macy’s will hold its annual Thanksgiving Day Parade. You probably know it as the loud, bright, slick event broadcast on TV before dinner is served and football starts. But the parade’s history is a pretty interesting walk through American history. An annual tradition since 1924, each year it gets a little splashier. The 2017 line-up will feature 25 giant character balloons, numerous floats, and more than 1,000 cheerleaders, dancers, and clowns and tons of people cheering in the streets. So hold on to your balloon strings, here at 16 weird, highly amusing, and fun facts about this only-in-America spectacle.
Four new balloons will debut this year.
New characters being added to the lineup include Olaf from Disney’s “Frozen,” a new version of the Grinch (he’ll be a “ballonicle,” or balloon that’s attached to and moved by a vehicle), and characters from “Super Wings” and “Paw Patrol.”
Balloons are inflated the night before the parade.
During the afternoon and evening before the parade, the balloons are inflated near the American Museum of Natural History just off Central Park West. The chore has become a spectator event, with people lining the streets and restaurants to watch the entertainment.
No seats or tickets are sold.
There are no designated seating areas for the parade, and no tickets are sold for it, making this a free event. (The bleachers you see on TV are for Macy’s employees.) To get a good viewing spot from the sidewalks, many spectators arrive by 6:30 a.m.
Some floats require as many as 90 handlers.
Hello Kitty looks sweet as candy, but she’s as tall as a 3-story building. It takes 90 handlers pulling her ropes to walk her through the parade.
In the early 2000s, Macy’s added a contemporary twist to the parade.
The retailer worked with artist Jeff Koons to feature funky balloons by contemporary artists such as himself, Takashi Murakami, and Keith Haring; the floats are now known as the Blue Sky Gallery.
Marching bands face stiff competition to get in.
Approximately 300 bands apply to appear in the parade each year, but just 12 are selected, making it quite a point of pride to be chosen.
Goodyear used to make the balloons.
For nearly six decades, Macy’s partnered with rubber company Goodyear to design and make all of its balloons. But in 1984, Macy’s took the job in-house. The Superman balloon – one of the last made by Goodyear – was also one of the longest at 100 feet.
In 1971, there were no balloons.
A torrential downpour grounded all of the inflatables for the first time ever. NBC aired clips from the previous year spliced in with the live feed.
President Kennedy was shot and killed just four days before the parade.
Macy’s grappled with canceling the event in 1963, but apparently the Kennedy family called to insist that the show must go on.
A nationwide shortage of helium once caused the parade to be held up, literally.
In 1958, the U.S. government asked Macy’s to forgo using helium due to a severe shortage of the gas. (It’s also used by scientists.) Macy’s agreed, but planners didn’t let that stop the parade – they used cranes instead to hold up balloons, which were inflated with air.
The parade was canceled during World War II.
The helium shortage wasn’t the only time Uncle Sam came calling. In 1942, the parade came to a stop when World War II broke out and rubber from the balloons was donated to the war effort. It didn’t start up again until 1945, after War’s End.
Bounty hunters once vied for balloons after the parade.
For the first few years of the parade, Macy’s had no plan for deflating balloons; they were simply released at the end of the route. From 1929 to 1932, the company attached tags that offered $25 gift cards to anyone who returned them. The crowd went crazy: Bounty hunters shot them down; two aviators caught balloons them mid-air. But when a 60-foot tiger balloon landed on a house on Long Island, a vicious tug of war erupted before the animal was shredded into pieces. The next year, parade officials corralled balloons themselves.
The first parade was thought up by employees.
It was 1924 when a group of Macy’s workers first asked the retailer to put on a parade about giving thanks and in celebration of the forthcoming Christmas season. “Many in the group [were] first-generation immigrants wanting to show pride in the new place their families [called] home,” explains Macy’s website.
In 1928, some balloon handlers floated off the ground, too.
Helium was used for the first time in 1927 to keep balloons afloat. But getting the technicalities right was still a work in progress. As a result, the following year, some balloon handlers were lifted 10 feet off the ground, and stayed that way for the length of the parade.
Each balloon fits into a 12-by-8-foot box, and takes just 15 minutes to deflate.
Because the parade’s floats and balloons have to be stored at a warehouse (an old Tootsie Roll factory) in New Jersey, the balloons come apart in sections and then are folded up, placed in boxes, and shuttled across the Hudson River to wait for their next appearances.
Snoopy has appeared more times as a balloon than any other character in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Charlie Brown’s famous canine pal first appeared in the 1968 parade. Since then, seven balloons have been made in his likeness, and Snoopy has appeared 40 times in the famous parade.