Living in Westchester has its perks, and one of them is being located smack in the middle of two of the best and biggest Thanksgiving parades in the country. Even better, as the two parades are held on different days, you can actually go to both.
The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is celebrating its 87th year. The twelve-time Emmy Award winning parade is on Thanksgiving Day, November 28th, from 9:00 AM - Noon. The parade provides viewers with 2.5 miles of public viewing and is expected to draw 3.5 million people. Over 50 million people will be watching the parade from home live on NBC, definitely a good option if you don't enjoy large crowds, have very young children, don't want to take a 5:30 AM train into NYC on a holiday, or have coulrophobia (that is, a fear of clowns). The parade begins at 9:00 AM sharp at 77th and Central Park West. It goes through Columbus Circle to Central Park South then heads down Sixth Avenue all the way to W. 34th Street (Macy's Herald Square). It is advised to avoid trying to watch the parade from Sixth Avenue between 34th and 38th Streets due to limited public access. Sometimes high winds cause balloon handlers to rush through the Columbus Circle area.
The history of the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade is quite interesting:
- It began in 1924 as a Christmas parade using Central Park Zoo animals and costumed performers.
- In 1929, the first character balloon was floated in the parade: Felix the Cat. The following year, instead of air, they began using helium and in 1929, safety valves were added to the balloons allowing the helium to leak slowly out. The balloons were released at the end of the parade with a return address label attached to them. If you were lucky enough to find a deflated balloon and returned it, Macy's gave you a gift.
- Between 1942-44, Macy's donated all balloons (for their rubber content) to the government for its war effort.
- Each float used in the parade today stands up to 40-feet tall and 28-feet wide, but can be folded into a 12x8-foot box in order to make it through the Lincoln Tunnel toll booth.
- Most balloons require 90 handlers each.
- Snoopy is the character that has been in the most parades.
- Today, there are over 8,000 volunteers that make the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade possible.
This year's parade boasts a very impressive line up. Balloons will include Hello Kitty, Spiderman, Buzz Lightyear, Snoopy, Elf on the Shelf, Spongebob, and many more. Float themes include Smurfs, Sprout, Cirque de Soleil, Dora's Christmas Carol, Build-a-Bear, Sesame Street, and Tom Turkey with famous hockey players, among others. Ariana Grande, Joan Jett, Gavin DeGraw, Goo Goo Dolls and others will be performing live. Cast members from the Broadway shows Matilda, Motown, and Kinky Boots will perform musical numbers on the parade stage. Also in the parade will be numerous award winning marching bands from all over the country, many clowns, cheerleaders, the Radio City Rockettes, The Big Apple Circus, and Sesame Street characters.
This year's parade, of course, has its controversies. The South Dakota Cattlemen's Association lobbied to have Joan Jett removed from their float. She is a vegetarian and a PETA activist, and it was felt that she did not represent the majority in their state. The SeaWorld float is also controversial. A recently released documentary called "Blackfish" questions the treatment of ocean life at the large aquarium. Protesters are expected to line the parade route.
If you can't make it to the parade or don't want to be one of 3.5 million people vying for a great view, the "Inflation Celebration" is happening on the Upper West Side on Wednesday November 27, beginning at 3:00 PM and can be viewed from W. 77th-81st Streets between Columbus and Central Park West, surrounding the American Museum of Natural History. It gets dark early and small children get lost each year, so parents may not want to bring young children to this. Public transportation is recommended.
The UBS Parade Spectacular is an impressive, yet more modest and less crowded Thanksgiving parade than the parade in Manhattan. It is in downtown Stamford on Sunday, November 24th at noon. Last year over 100,000 people attended the event, so plan to get there early and bring a chair if you tire easily. The balloons at the Stamford parade are fabulous, and include Big Bird, Clifford the Big Red Dog, Elmo & Cookie Monster, The Lorax, and Kermit the Frog, among others. Debuting this year are characters from Yo Gabba Gabba, the Smurfs, and Babar + Badou. Kids will love the floats. They'll see Max and Ruby, ballet dancers from The Nutcracker, and, of course, Santa Claus. There will be numerous marching bands and dance troupes, an acrobatic team that performed on "America's Got Talent," and as a Master of Ceremonies, Alan Kalter from the "Late Show with Dave Letterman." Allan Houston, former NBA All-Star (NY Knicks) is the Grand Marshal. The parade is accessible by train from Grand Central Station and ample parking is available in garages if you drive.
If you can't make it to the parade, the balloon inflation party is a very popular event and is also in downtown Stamford. On Saturday, November 23rd, from 3:00-6:00 PM, parade volunteers inflate the character balloons and what a sight it is to see! There will be music, talent, costumed characters, and Santa Claus to provide entertainment for the kids.