Here’s a look at a Thanksgiving tradition as much a part of the holiday as football, eating way too much, and naps.
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has always been affiliated with the Macy’s department store chain, but it wasn’t always affiliated with Christmas. The first parade was held on Thanksgiving Day 1924, but it was designed explicitly to drive holiday shopping traffic to Macy’s Herald Square flagship store. It was called the Macy’s Christmas Parade.
It was a Zoo!
Some other differences: There were not balloons at first. But there were monkeys, elephants, camels, and bears in the parade, all loaned by the Central Park Zoo.
The parade has been broadcast on TV since 1948, when not very many people even owned a TV set. NBC aired it then, and has held onto the official broadcast rights ever since. However, CBS can and does air the parade as well. Because the parade is a public event that takes place on the public streets of New York City, it’s technically a news event…so that means anybody can show it. Only NBC can call it the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. CBS just calls it the “Thanksgiving Day Parade.”
Even when high winds and other X-factors threaten the parade, things usually go off without a hitch. The 1986 Macy’s parade is probably the most disastrous of all time. Several balloons crashed or deflated along the route, including a Raggedy Ann ballon, which crashed into a lamppost, which then toppled to the ground. Then a Superman balloon got caught in a tree and it came loose from its tethers. Toward the end of the parade, a Betty Boop balloon fell to the earth. The Garfield balloon lost two legs, and the Olive Oil balloon was reduced to just two parts of an arm but the time the parade mercifully finished.
Performances from Broadway musicals are a part of the parade, too, which both promotes New York City and provides a glimpse of the Great White Way for musical fans who live far away. That commitment to musical theater is probably why in 2009, parade organizers invited the cast of Fox’s hit musical series Glee to perform. But then executives at NBC forced Macy’s to uninvite those singin’ teens, because Glee aired on a different network.