Then and Now: the Macy’s Day Parade

The beloved and historic Thanksgiving parade will be quite different this upcoming holiday.


NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

COVID-19 will open up a new door of firsts for America’s favorite Thanksgiving tradition.

Anna Parsons, Staff Writer

It’s Thanksgiving. The smell of early morning cooking fills the air. The TV clicks on, and suddenly the living room is transformed into a massive celebration of thanks. 50-foot balloons soar through the sky. Marching bands from across the country bang their drums. Broadway musical casts sing and dance, and famous musicians strut their moving stages.

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has wowed America every Thanksgiving morning since its debut in 1924, drawing in over 3.5 million in-person spectators. But will the iconic event occur in 2020 with the spread of COVID-19 on the rise?

Originally, the parade was Macy’s way of broadcasting its new one million square feet of retail space. Also, the parade was intended to welcome in the holiday shopping season. 

Balloons of characters from classic nursery rhymes, like Little Red Riding Hood and Mother Goose, were featured, and zoo animals such as bears, camels, monkeys, and elephants from the Central Park Zoo were loaned to the company to walk the six-mile route. 

Since its start date 96 years ago, the parade has been cancelled only three times. In 1942, 1943, and 1944, the parade was sadly cancelled due to the extensive need for rubber and helium for World War II. Macy’s decided to donate its balloons to the United States government for the war efforts.

One of the most impressive aspects of the parade, the 50-foot balloons have become a trademark element of the event. But in 1971, America unfortunately did not get to witness the spectacular balloons. Due to dangerously high winds, the balloons were unable to fly for fear of building damage and attendee safety. 

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has been in existence since 1924. (Getty Images)

The iconic floats that strut down New York City’s streets are another crowd favorite. Tom Turkey, which first appeared in 1973, is the oldest float that still greets adoring crowds. 

However, every child’s favorite part of the parade is when Santa Claus makes his entrance at the end of the route. Santa has been featured since the inaugural parade. His appearance signifies the start of the Christmas season and serves as a wonderful end to an excellent event. 

But this year will add a unique chapter to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade history book. To adapt to public health concerns, the parade will still occur but in a televised-only format. Additionally, parade participation will be cut by 88 percent, all participants will be over the age of 18, and vehicles (instead of balloon handlers) will be used to fly the balloons, along with many other adjustments

The parade’s performances have been pre-recorded to ensure safety. Broadway performances by the casts of Mean Girls, Jagged Little Pill, Hamilton, and Ain’t Too Proud have all previously recorded their routines for Thursday’s event. Macy’s is still planning on presenting 18 balloons, 26 floats with singers, and nine street performances. 

While the energy from the live crowds will be absent, every American watching from the safety of their homes will be just as thrilled to experience the tradition. 

In a year like this, having a truly admired event still happen on such a special holiday is something that can only make 2020 better. Having the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade occur means making millions of people smile, which makes this year’s event that much more special. 

The ability to modify an almost 100-year tradition to protect the safety of thousands in only a few months is not an easy task. But 2020 has taught us that beloved customs can continue in a cautious way instead of cancelling them outright. 

Tune in on NBC Thanksgiving morning at 9 AM to witness this year’s historic adaptation of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.