Tom Turkey (pictured above) is the parade’s most famous float and always opens the event, sponsored by Macy’s department store. Here is a brief history of the parade in pictures:
live or believe?
The first parade was held in 1924 and featured live animals from the Central Park Zoo in the early years. In 1927, officials replaced large animal-shaped helium balloons, a change that must have made things a little easier.
Today, the parade attracts 3.5 million people along the 4-kilometer route, with millions more watching the spectacle on screens. A menagerie of floats, soaring helium balloons, clowns, marching bands, artists and celebrities roll, float or stride through the city streets.
Above, handlers lead Andy the Alligator along the New York parade route in 1933.
Parade floats reflected Macy’s Christmas window displays in the early years with popular nursery rhymes such as: Little Miss Muffet, shown on the left. In 1934, Walt Disney and Tony Sarg, a German-American puppeteer and the parade’s creative director, helped Mickey Mouse make a grand debut as one of the parade’s inflatable balloons. 25 helpers – dressed as Mickey and Minnie Mouse, of course – escorted the 12-meter balloon during the parade.
Part clerk, part clown
Store officials originally decided to hold the parade to lure shoppers to Macy’s flagship store on 34th Street. Macy’s staff, many of whom were first-generation European immigrants, suggested it, recalling the festivals they knew and loved in Europe. During the first parade in 1924, the store’s workers participated as clowns, cowboys, knights, and other characters.
Clowns, like this one from the 1949 parade, have always engaged with the audience and increased excitement for onlookers.
65 years kicks
Members of the all-female precision dance company The Radio City Rockettes have performed in the parade since 1957. Over the years, New York-based dancers have also heeled during wartime and presidential inaugurations for soldiers abroad. Here they perform a dance routine at the 2014 parade.
Rows upon rows of virtuosos
The parade features high school and college marching bands from across the United States. Each year, the Macy’s Band Selection Committee decides which bands are allowed to perform. The application pack includes video footage of the band in action at a halftime show or competition event. This year, the parade will feature 12 high school and college marching bands.
Here, the West Virginia University Marching Band walks down Sixth Avenue during the 2016 parade.
Floats and giant balloons – including Grogu, popularly known as Baby Yoda, a character from The Mandalorian TV series and peanuts Comics’ Snoopy, the parade’s longest-running giant character balloon – ride down Central Park West in 2021.
The parade is held every year on Thanksgiving Day, with the exception of three years during World War II when the US military required helium (used in large balloon figures that floated above the parade) and rubber (used in parade vehicle tires) for the war effort . In 2020, the parade took place, but without spectators along the route due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The parade regularly features celebrity performers, from 96-year-old singer Tony Bennett to 26-year-old actress/singer Zendaya. Above, in 2021, as parade participants once again got to interact with spectators along the route, Grammy and Oscar-winning musician Jon Batiste waves from a float honoring the state of Louisiana.
Macy’s has hired Santa Claus actors to welcome children to its flagship store since the 1860s. And Macy’s even plays a big role Miracles on 34th Streetthe 1947 film about a girl who finds the real Santa Claus – known as Kris Kringle – works in the shop.
In the early years, the parade was called the Macy’s Christmas Parade. And although there has been more emphasis on Thanksgiving in recent years, tradition still dictates that Santa Claus closes the parade to usher in the holiday season. Many children know that they have to watch the entire parade to catch a glimpse of Santa, and the New York crowd gives Santa a hearty round of applause.