Before the turkey and sweet potatoes hit the table, many Americans kick off Thanksgiving with a parade and the sight of Santa Claus strolling down Herald Square in Manhattan.
The parade is one of America's most beloved events and a tradition that dates back nearly a century. However, 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 that takes up an entire city block.
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. It also had a Santa Claus to officially usher in the Christmas shopping season.
It is reported that 10,000 spectators watched that first parade as it happened.
The event was first broadcast on radio, but became a national spectacle with the introduction of television. Eventually, the famous Radio City Rockettes and various Broadway performers were shown on TV to amplify the razzle dazzle of the parade.
Over the years, the celebration grew to include balloons, and floats of the massive figures we know today.
It is believed that Felix the Cat was the first massive character balloon shown in the parade, making its first appearance in 1927. In the years since, Spider-Man, Garfield, Superman, Barney, and street artist Brian Donnelly’s Kaws figure have followed, with more introduced each year.
After World War II broke out, the parade was suspended from 1942 to 1944 as the rubber and helium used in the balloons were dedicated to the war effort.
The parade resumed in 1945 with a route beginning on Central Park West and down Broadway that stretched three miles to the front of the Herald Square Macy's. It also became bigger and better as celebrities, marching bands from across the country, and more balloons and floats are added.
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.
This Thanksgiving, an estimated 3 million people will watch from the street and another 50 million across the country will view the parade on their televisions.