Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade: A tradition almost 100 years in the making
One of the most popular Thanksgiving events had extraordinarily humble origins
· The parade began in 1924; it was the brainchild of a group of employees who worked for the department store.
· Features of the parade have come and gone over the years. One enduring feature has been Santa Claus. He has graced every parade, from day one.
· The parade has been canceled on several occasions over the years, most notably from 1942-1944, at the height of World War II.
It’s as much of a Thanksgiving Day tradition as preparing the turkey, buying all of the fixings and combing through the family guest list. For decades, Macy’s has hosted a parade outside its flagship Herald Square store in New York City. As with many long-held traditions, the festivities started small but picked up steam at a rapid clip as time marched onward.
The initial idea started simply enough: A group of employees decided to gather outside the venerable store on 34th Street. While gathering, they dressed in costumes and engaged in pageantry and other festivities. There were a number of other notable events in those early years, including live animals on loan from none other than the nearby Central Park Zoo.
Thematically, many of the elements of today’s Thanksgiving Day parades revolve around the specific holiday and all of its late autumn ambiance. In the early days, the parades served more as Christmas parades, complete with floats featuring nursery rhyme characters and other decor that mimicked the department store’s window display for the year.
Tried and true traditions endure
While some of the features, such as the animals, eventually left the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parades, other elements have endured the test of time. From day one, for instance, floats were a prominent feature in the parades. So, too, were performances from professional bands.
Perhaps the most notable enduring feature, however, has been Santa Claus, who has graced every Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in existence. Santa, who routinely shows up at the tail-end of each three-hour performance, is used to signify the official ushering in of the holiday season.
Over the years, several memorable floats have entered the parade, some for one-time or occasional appearances and others for long stretches. Mickey Mouse, a popular favorite, made his inaugural appearance in 1934, for example.
A few notable cancelations over the years
It seems unfathomable today, but the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has been canceled in a few instances, most notably at the height of World War II.
According to a write-up of NYC-related data on Baruch College’s website, the festivities were paused in the early 1940s and resumed at the end of the war in 1945. The reason cited for the parade’s pre-emption during the war years was a domestic shortage of helium and rubber. Both supplies were in demand for war-related efforts in a sign of larger-scale rationing that took place in this period.
The parade’s popularity in media
“Television brought the spectacle of the parade on vivid display for the first time.”
While the parade was a popular staple in American pop culture over the years, it swelled in popularity with the advent of television. Prior to the arrival of TV in the early 1950s, many audiences had the opportunity to have their first gander at the parade in the popular holiday classic, “Miracle on 34th Street,” which was released in 1947.
But television brought the spectacle of the parade on vivid display for the first time. Color TV only heightened the parade’s popularity, as audiences could see the full scope of the various floats through the different designs featured.
Over the years, the style of the floats has also evolved. Initially, the floats were featured in a lopsided manner, which is portrayed in “Miracle on 34th Street.” Subsequent innovations have allowed the floats to be displayed right-side-up, in their intended form.
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