It’s beginning….that magical, mystical, bustling time of the year generally referred to as “the holidays.” You have seen evidence spring up long before now, but for me, the holiday season officially begins with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.
The first parade sponsored by the US chain store Macy’s occurred in 1924; the American Thanksgiving Parade in Detroit originated that same year. One holiday parade, today known as 6ABC Dunkin’ Donuts Parade, began in Philadelphia four years earlier in 1920. Macy’s first parade was known as Macy’s Christmas Parade. It extended from 145th Street to the store at 34th Street. The employees marched in costume. There were floats, professional bands and live animals borrowed from the Central Park Zoo. Santa Claus arrived at the end just as he does today. But in that first parade, a jolly elf was enthroned and crowned “King of the Kiddies.” An estimated quarter of a million people watched it.
A few years later, Macy’s asked Anthony “Tony” Frederick Sarg, who worked with marionettes, to prepare a window design of a parade. His animal shaped balloons made by Goodyear replaced the live animals in 1927. The Felix the Cat balloon made its debut in 1928. Originally filled with air, balloons with return addresses were released at the finale of the parade. Anyone who returned one was given a free gift from Macy’s. After an incident of balloons bursting, they were fitted with safety valves and filled with helium instead of air.
Popularity of the New York parade continued to grow; the parades were broadcast on radio in the thirties. There were suspensions from 1942-44 because helium could not be spared during World War
II. This parade gained international notoriety when the film, Miracle on 34th Street, was released in 1947, and in 1948 it was broadcast on television for the first time. Today approximately forty-four million people tune in to watch the three-hour spectacle.
Most spectators look forward to the balloons. Actually, there are three types of balloons. Novelty balloons are the small ones that might fit on a performer’s head. There are the full-size balloons that depict larger than life popular culture characters. Lastly, there are “Blue Sky Gallery” balloons that transfer real life contemporary works of art into balloons. Some balloons are float based known as Falloons and others are self-powered vehicles called Balloonicles. New balloons for 2013 include Finn and Jake, Toothless Dragon and Wizard of Oz 75th Anniversary, but there are plenty of old favorites like Popeye, Betty Boop and Rocky and Bullwinkle.
If you tire of looking at balloons, there are marching bands and cheerleaders from high schools all over the country. They spend many hours training just for the chance to be chosen to march in the parade.
The Radio City Rockettes perform one of their sparkling holiday dance routines, favorite singers of adults and children alike lip sync songs at the end of the route, which now extends from 77th Street to the Macy’s store on 34th Street. Casts from several Broadway shows perform a number for those who can’t attend the theater. Many performers from popular TV shows also make an appearance. Yet, the whole parade continues to build up to one climatic event—the appearance of Santa and his sleigh as he officially ushers in the holiday season.
Maybe we are all children at heart!
Barbara Ann Mojica