Before the stuffing and the sweet potatoes hit the table, many Americans kick off Turkey Day with the famed Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, which features giant balloons marched through the streets of Manhattan.
The parade is one of America's most beloved events and a tradition that dates back nearly a century. However, did you know the celebration has extremely humble beginnings?
In November 1924, a small group of Macy's employees gathered to celebrate Thanksgiving two years after the company opened “The World’s Largest Store” on 34th Street, which takes up an entire city block and is there to this day.
The employees and the company thought it would be a great way to celebrate and advertise the retail power that Macy’s wielded. The first parade took place in Herald Square right outside the store and featured people dressed in decorative costumes and animals from local zoos.
Since the very first parade in 1924, a turkey float has been included to signify a Thanksgiving feast.
As the parade grew in popularity and size, so did the turkey.
While the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade turkey has had some modifications over the years, it continues to be a constant float in the event.
Santa Claus has been a fixture of the parade since its incarnation.
Santa continues to roll down the parade route to the delight of children of all ages. The first sight of Santa Claus in the parade ushers in the Christmas shopping season.
Since the very first parade, marching bands have been a staple to the route. For decades, Macy's has handpicked some of the best college and high school marching bands from around the country to perform in the event. The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is looked at as one of the most coveted and biggest achievements for a marching band.
In 1927, Macy's introduced balloons to the parade to replace the zoo animals featured in earlier spectacles. The first balloon to be marched in the parade was the popular cartoon Felix the Cat.
It is reported that 10,000 spectators watched that first parade as it happened. The parade was soon after broadcast on radio for locals in New York City to hear what was happening. Eventually, it gained national attention.
First on Television
The 1932 parade was the first broadcast on television. For some, it was the first time hearing about the parade.
Thanks to the popularity of the parade on television, the world famous Radio City Rockettes were introduced to the event. The Rockettes have since been a staple of the parade since the early 1930s and perform their high kicking routine in front of Macy's each Thanksgiving.
World War II
The 1941 parade was the last to be put on before going on a three-year hiatus amid World War II. There was a shortage of rubber and helium in the country, which was one of the main sources of material to make the massive floats.
World War II
After end of World War II, the parade resumed in November 1945 and Americans reveled in the spectacle after the conclusion of the war.
Celebrities have been a fixture of the parade since it was first broadcast on television. Some of the biggest names in film, music, and television ride on a float or perform during the parade in an effort to bring some star power to the event.
In 1968, one of the biggest names in television, William Shatner, dressed up as his character, Capt. James T. Kirk from "Star Trek" and waved to the crowds.
In the past, celebrities including Betty White, Regis Philbin, The Roots, Jimmy Fallon, Patti LaBelle, Wyclef Jean, Gwen Stefani and Idina Menzel, among many others, have all made an appearance.
One way the television broadcasters of the parade figured out how to keep people at home entertained as the floats, balloons, and marching bands hit the route, was to allow some of Broadway's biggest names to perform in front of Macy's.
For many watching, it is their first time experiencing Broadway; for others, it is a way to check out a new musical.
Many of the floats and balloons in each parade represent what is popular at the time in pop culture and media. In keeping with the times, in 1951, the parade introduced a spaceman as a balloon to coincide with the popularity of going to outer space and touching the stars during the era.
One balloon that has resonated with generations of revelers took a while to be introduced to the event — Spider-Man made his Thanksgiving Day parade debut in 1987. The superhero first appeared in comic books in 1962 but wasn't until his 25th anniversary that he was given the balloon treatment. He has since appeared throughout the 1990s and eventually was retired in 2014.
In 2002, the first African-American-inspired balloon was introduced to the parade and came from the Nickelodeon children's series "Little Bill."
In 2012, street artist Kaws brought his famous bashful clown known as "Companion" to the event for the first and only time.
Thanks to the popularity of street art in urban areas, New York City-area artist Brian Donnelly aka Kaws, became a staple on social media and his characters were some of the most beloved by critics and fans, leading Macy's to ask the designer if he would allow a balloon in the parade.
In 2009, the route changed slightly to include 7th Avenue instead of Broadway. Two years later, it moved to 6th Avenue, which has been used since. The parade still ends in front of the store.
Aside from the balloons, floats and performers the weather is the real star of the show each year.
Like they say on Broadway, "the show must go on," and the parade has never been stopped due to inclement weather. The parade has been marched in the rain, snow, high winds, and sleet, and it still attracts a big crowd every year.
While watching the parade from the street or from the comfort of your sofa are two of the more popular ways to view the spectacle, some folks are lucky enough to have windows facing the route.
Many New York City companies with buildings along the route will allow their employees to come into their buildings with their families to watch the parade during the holiday.
While Thanksgiving is a time of reflection on what to be thankful for, members of the U.S. military also march in the parade. The work of America's servicemen and women is something everyone is thankful for each year.
The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is not just a reflection of the pop culture times but also of the headlines. Since Sept. 11, 2001, the NYPD has beefed up security because of the vulnerability of the parade's size and route.
One of the best local secrets is the balloon inflation preparation on New York's Upper West Side on Thanksgiving Eve.
The night before the parade, New Yorkers gather to watch the balloons get tested out and inflated so the next morning everything is ready to go.
The 2018 parade will feature the debut of beloved "Dragon Ball" character Goku along the parade route. Goku is one of many new faces and characters making their first stroll down the parade route this year.