The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade began in 1924, and has since become an essential kickoff to the holiday season in the United States. The parade, organized by the retail giant Macy’s, is renowned for its massive character balloons; for most of the event’s existence, these balloons have taken on a life of their own. Some iconic balloon characters such as Snoopy and Pikachu have appeared in different variations every year for decades, while others have come and gone. Each year, the procession draws millions of spectators in person and tens of millions more watching at home. It’s a spectacle that has grown to be an integral part not just of the holidays, but of American culture. Here are five facts you might not know about the parade, from its Christmas origins, to its role in the war effort, to just how long it takes to inflate one of those famous balloons.
It Was Originally Known as the Macy’s Christmas Parade
In 1924, Macy’s flagship New York City department store completed a major renovation that made it the largest store in the world. To entice people into its more than 1 million square feet of shopping space at the start of the busy holiday season, the retailer planned a parade for Thanksgiving morning. This first parade, which took place on November 27, was called the Macy’s Christmas Parade.
The inaugural Macy’s Christmas Parade spanned 6 miles and featured live animals from the Central Park Zoo, including bears, elephants, monkeys, and more. Store employees didn’t just march in the parade: A lot of them were immigrants from Europe and helped to plan it, wanting to incorporate elements of their traditional holiday festivities. The parade’s famous balloons weren’t around yet, but floats that year featured Mother Goose favorites Little Miss Muffet and Little Red Riding Hood, made to match the store’s holiday window display. The final float featured Santa on his sleigh, a tradition that remains today — even though the celebration was advertised as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade starting in 1935.