Thanksgiving Day is around the corner and besides counting your blessings and crowding around the holiday Turkey, there are several other traditions that occur on this day including the well-known Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. One thing that won’t happen during the 90th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade: the intentional release of the iconic balloons, followed by a scavenger hunt for them.
But that’s just what happened in 1929, 1930 and 1931. The long-abandoned balloon release made for a surreal scene in 1931 as massive figures between 40 and 170 feet long — Felix the Cat, a hippopotamus and a family dubbed mama, papa and baby — floated east in a brisk wind.
A few fun facts about the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in its 90th year:
– The first parade, in 1924, was called “Macy’s Christmas Parade” — though it took place on Thanksgiving. It was renamed the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1927.
– Lions, tigers, camels, goats, elephants and donkeys were a part of the original parade processions
– Live animals were replaced with massive balloons in 1927.
– The first balloons included Felix the Cat, Babar the Elephant and Toy Soldier.
– The parade was canceled in 1942, 1943 and 1944 because of World War II.
– Snoopy — who has been honored with seven different balloons — made his debut in 1968.
All eyes turn to Manhattan and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade 2016, which starts at 9 a.m. at 77th Street and Central Park West and heads down Sixth Avenue into Herald Square. The annual pageant of giant balloons, floats, cheerleaders, clowns, marching bands, theater and Broadway in New York performances and celebs is one of the best NYC events in November.
If you plan on driving to the parade—or anywhere in its vicinity—Thursday morning, you should avoid a huge chunk of the Upper West Side and Midtown West due to street closures (and, of course, congestion on the streets that stay open).
There are three recommended stretches or spots on the route for watching the parade: the first leg along Central Park West, Columbus Circle and, finally, along Sixth Avenue between Central Park South and 38th Street. The section from 38th Street to Herald Square and Macy’s department store is the telecast area and closed to the public. While there is limited space for viewing along the south side of 34th Street between Broadway and Seventh Avenue, the sight lines are seriously compromised by cameras, lights and scaffolding.
Central Park West: Viewing starts at 75th Street (two blocks down from the official start of the parade) and is only open to the public on the west side. Central Park is closed for invite-only grandstand seating. The parade runs along this stretch from 9 to 10:30am, so early birds who don’t mind turning up at 6am to snag a prime spot should flock here.
Columbus Circle: The Shops at Columbus Circle open at 9am on Thanksgiving Day. From the second and third floors of the mall, you’ll enjoy an elevated view of the parade streaming down Central Park West. As an added bonus you’ll also get to see the Holiday Under the Stars light display. Twofer!
Sixth Avenue: The floats and balloons reach Sixth Avenue at about 9:30am, so arrive at this 21-block portion as late as 7am and you should still find a good spot. You can get a great view anywhere from 59th to 38th Sts.
And don’t worry about the vague ISIS threat that called the parade an “excellent target”—the NYPD is ready for any possible attack.
It’s totally free to watch the parade at one of the three aforementioned stretches and spots.