Every Thanksgiving, more than 53 million people around the country tune into the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. It’s no ordinary parade, but a national tradition that for many is just as important on Thanksgiving Day as serving a roast turkey or pumpkin pie.
This year, the Parade is celebrating its 85th anniversary. It started back on Thanksgiving Day in 1924 as a gathering of Macy’s employees, mostly immigrants or first-generation Americans, got together at the corner of 145th Street and Convent Avenue in Harlem. Dressed in costumes, and leading animals borrowed from the Central Park Zoo, the group of clowns, stilt-walkers, and Santa (of course) paraded through Manhattan for nearly six miles. Today, it’s turned into a grand spectacle with balloons, clowns, marching bands, and performances, that hundreds of Macy’s employees work on year-round.
Can’t make it to New York City to watch the balloons being inflated the night before, or sacrifice a good night’s sleep to witness the 3 a.m. dress rehearsals in front of TV cameras? Consider it a blessing in disguise.
Like many others, you can still tune into the parade on television, perhaps watching from the comfort of your couch, still in pajamas, enjoying the calm before the cooking storm. For Iron Chef Cat Cora, Thanksgiving is one of her favorite holidays because it’s one of the few days she and her wife’s cell phones are turned off. “We sit and watch the parade on TV with the kids over mugs of eggnog, then spend the day cooking together.” For others, the thrill of the parade is enough to distract the family, providing a hungry person the opportunity to slip in bites of butternut squash soup, stuffing, and mashed potatoes, all on the sly, like one TDM editor does.
For some kids, watching the parade is the ultimate indulgence (and for parents, a suitable babysitting tool). One TDM editor fondly remembers eating on the floor with siblings while her parents cooked away in the kitchen, something otherwise never allowed. And for those who are older, it’s the perfect excuse to begin celebrating early (especially if you’re the type that mourns the parade’s end because it means you’ve got to face the family). Just line up as many shots as there are floats.
Hosting guests overnight, or for the whole weekend? Take a cue from Emeril Lagasse and host a parade-viewing party for family or extended friends in town. Offer a casual spread of easy brunch dishes that can all be made in advance, like yogurt parfaits with granola, muffins, fruit salads, and a hearty breakfast casserole (and that will still leave room for the bird and stuffing). Or, if you’ve already got the kitchen ready for hosting Thanksgiving, opt for a potluck brunch get-together around the big-screen TV. Just don’t forget the sparkling brunch cocktails!
Have a Thanksgiving morning tradition of your own? Share yours here for a chance to win your own copy of The Macy’s Culinary Council’s new Thanksgiving & Holiday Cookbook, signed by Emeril Lagasse, before it goes on sale on October 11th! Then check back in November for a special, behind-the-scenes look at the parade over the years and interview with the parade’s Executive Producer, Amy Kule.
Thanksgiving Day Parade
America's preeminent 'Thanksgiving Parade' is an important tradition. It was first held in the year 1924 in Detroit down to Woodward Avenue. The parade began on a very small scale, its popularity grew with each passing year, and after almost 24 years of the parade tradition, it was televised locally in 1948. Fours years later in 1952 the parade received national coverage.
The Parade is famously known for its policy of going on under any circumstance or condition be it rain or shine. The most bittersweet year of the Parade was 1963, which was held less than a week after President Kennedy's assassination, the country was still in mourning. But, as they say 'The show must go on', the parade was held so as not to disappoint millions of children and viewers.
Thanksgiving parades also occur in other cities like Plymouth, Houston, Philadelphia and Detroit (where it is the only major parade of the year).
Part 1: What is the history of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
All of the United States used to soar high during the twenties, and New York was not left behind. The iconic departmental store - Macy's emerged as a public platform in 1922. R.H Macy and Company gained several potential competitors in a few years of their journey. It forced them to open in several regional locations throughout the city.
The original flagship store in Manhattan was so successful that they had to expand it in 1924. This storefront covered an entire block stretching from Broadway to Seventh Avenue along with street number 34. To celebrate the enormous success and the introduction of the ‘World's Largest Store,’ Macy's decided to throw a Parade on Thanksgiving Morning to the entire New York City. It was only about the next big holiday on the calendar- Christmas and had a subtle marketing undertone to it.
On the beautiful morning of November 27, 1924, Macy's started at 9 am by giving 'Special Thanksgiving Treats' to the children of New York City. With Police Escort leading the start of Macy’sParade from the 145th Street and Convent Avenue. The first-ever Parade extended up to 6 miles. It was already a challenge for those who started from Harlem to Harold Square.
The first-ever Macy's Thanksgiving Parade was widely themed according to the Macy's Christmas window display in the year 1924. The ' Nursery Rhyme ' theme featured Mother Goose favorites like the ' Little Miss Muffet,' 'Little Red Riding Hood,' or the 'Old Woman who lived in a Shoe.' The Department Employees took part in the parade dressed as Clowns, knights and countryside cowboys.
The Parade also showcased some of the animals from Central Zoo, like bears, camels, elephants and monkeys, which took it to another 'circus-like level.' The parade's central iconic attraction was the massive ' Santa Claus ' float, at the very end, on a Reindeer driven Sleigh on top of a mountain of ice. And adding to the frost on the cake, was four Bands, playing to the Festive March.
At the end of the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade, around Ten thousand people cheered for Santa Claus when Kris Kringle was crowned the "King of the Kiddies." Followed by children rushing to the store window to see the miniature nursery rhymes characters on moving belts and frolicking in their parade in front of a facade.
The parade was such a huge success that Macy's announced that it'd stage the parade again the next year. And since then, Macy's Thanksgiving Parade quickly became a holiday tradition in New York. The Zoo animals were replaced by character balloons to spread a happy vibe among the youngsters. In 1927, helium balloons were introduced, which has still clawed its roots to the present day.
Due to the course of time, the Macy's parade has been snipped off to a length of two to three miles and bloomed with balloons, marching bands, celebrities and cheerleaders.
And still, now, Santa Claus remains to be the Showstopper of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, and his arrival to Herald Square marks the Christmas Season in the City.
How the Holiday is celebrated
Thanksgiving dinner is held on this day with all family members gathered together. Family reunions and feasting are common as everyone offers prayers to God for His continuous grace.
Besides meals there are few more traditions held, Churches hold special thanksgiving services to thank God. It’s about reaping the benefits of the year’s work, efforts, and struggles. Many cities hold parades to honor Thanksgiving. In New York City Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is held which started in 1924 and is attended by two million people.
Thanksgiving is the start of the holiday season when we start buying for Christmas with Black Friday falling the next day. Thanksgiving day is a great time to plan what to buy on the following day. Black Friday has become a marketing sensation as it has become the busiest shopping day of the year. Promotions and sales arrive early with some special deals are available only in limited quantities. So shoppers camp out in front of stores early to grab those deals.
Then comes Cyber Monday which is the Monday following Black Friday when shoppers can take advantage of many online deals available in the market. Then the coming Tuesday is known as #Givingtuesday when communities and organizations are encouraged to give to charities and those in need.
NBC traditionally hosts the annual broadcast of the parade, and there will likely be a way to livestream the event, too. We'll have further details how and when to tune in closer to Thanksgiving!
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Reinvented to safely keep spectators in New York City at home and families nationwide glued to their televisions, the 94 th edition of the iconic event ushers in the holiday season with a televised celebration featuring giant character balloons, animated floats, incredible street performances, musical acts, and the one-and-only Santa Claus
Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade airs nationwide on NBC and Telemundo on Thursday, November 26, 2020 from 9 a.m. – Noon, in all time zones
NEW YORK--(BUSINESS WIRE)-- The tradition continues, as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade ® , the nation’s grandest holiday spectacle returns to kick-off the holiday season from 34 th Street! On Thursday, November 26, the time-honored phrase Let’s Have a Parade ™ will cue the start of a reimagined celebration that will safely bring the magic of this cherished holiday tradition to television audiences nationwide. The 94 th edition of Macy’s Parade will feature a mix of the event’s traditional giant character balloons, animated floats, exciting street performances and marching ensembles, musical acts, whimsical clowns and the arrival of the one-and-only Santa Claus. Reinvented to safely keep spectators in New York City at home and families nationwide glued to their televisions, America’s premiere Thanksgiving holiday celebration will air on NBC and Telemundo from 9 a.m. – Noon, in all time zones.
This press release features multimedia. View the full release here: https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20201120005554/en/
THE WORLD-FAMOUS MACY’S THANKSGIVING DAY PARADE® KICKS OFF THE HOLIDAY SEASON FOR MILLIONS OF TELEVISION VIEWERS WATCHING SAFELY AT HOME (Graphic: Business Wire)
“For nearly 100 years the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has served as a milestone celebration that brings joy to millions of families nationwide and kicks off the holidays with unparalleled spectacle,” said Susan Tercero, executive producer of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. “Our safely reimagined broadcast will continue that cherished tradition, as viewers nationwide celebrate together bringing a much-needed sense of normalcy to our lives.” She added, “Thanks to incredible partnerships with the city and state of New York, as well as a host of agency partners and a resilient team, together we will keep America entertained safely from the comforts of home this year. While it will may look different in execution, we invite everyone to tune in and experience our incredible celebration on television featuring our signature character balloons, dazzling animated floats, whimsical clowns, world-class performances, and of course the arrival of Santa Claus, who will once again herald the start of the holiday season.”
A REIMAGINED NATIONAL SPECTACLE
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is annually the nation’s most anticipated holiday celebration. To safely bring the spectacle to millions of viewers nationwide during this unprecedented time, the annual production will forgo marching down the traditional 2.5-mile route in Manhattan in order to avoid gathering large crowds. Instead it will be reimagined over the course of several days as a television-only event leading up to the live Thanksgiving Day broadcast that will feature the breadth of its signature elements. Broadcast nationally on NBC and Telemundo on Thursday, November 26, the TODAY Show’s Savannah Guthrie, Hoda Kotb and Al Roker will host the live three-hour telecast for NBC, with the Spanish language simulcast on Telemundo hosted by Adamari López, Jessica Carrillo, Rodner Figueroa and Nastassja Bolivar.
Since its inception, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has served as a reflection of the finest of American popular culture. From the best of music to the brightest lights on Broadway and everything in between. The impact of this year’s pandemic related cancellations on some of New York City’s most beloved arts, entertainment and cultural events was a huge loss felt by both New Yorkers and visitors alike who enjoy them annually as part of New York City’s thriving and vibrant communities. To give the nation a dose of the lost magic of some of these beloved events, this year’s Macy’s Parade will feature a selection of performances representing a sampling of the annual traditions that had to scale back, cancel or indefinitely postpone their events or performances.
The best of Broadway will once again be featured in the Macy’s Parade with performances from the casts of Ain’t Too Proud - The Life and Times of The Temptations, Hamilton, Jagged Little Pill, and Mean Girls. In addition, the show-stopping Radio City Rockettes ® will bring their signature magic to Herald Square.
Entertaining viewers nationwide with their signature flair will be a special performance from the all-female samba drumline Fogo Azul NYC along with Pulitzer Prize winning playwright and Mermaid Queen Lynn Nottage and Dick Zigun representing the Coney Island USA Mermaid Parade Danza Fiesta representing the National Puerto Rican Day Parade The Lesbian & Gay Big Apple Corps Band representing the NYC Pride March the Sugarplum Fairy from George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker ® representing the New York City Ballet the FDNY Emerald Society Pipes and Drums representing the New York City St. Patrick's Day Parade ™ and a special performance entitled CaribeFuturism featuring a collective of acts including partners Pan in Motion, Batingua Arts, Sesame Flyers, and Kaisokah Moko Jumbies with Carnival Queen Kay Mason representing the West Indian American Day Carnival Association.
The fun doesn’t stop there with additional performances from The Big Apple Circus, The NYPD Police Band, The West Point Marching Band and the step skills of Zeta Phi Beta.
Setting the stage for entertainment on Thanksgiving Day will be stars for everyone in the family to enjoy. Featuring a mix of musical genres from Pop and R & B to Country and Latin music, the Parade will be the ultimate television party destination this November. Joining the festivities will be Lauren Alaina, Ally Brooke, Sofia Carson, CNCO, Jimmy Fallon and The Roots (opening the show), Karol G, Tori Kelly, Patti LaBelle, Miss America 2020 Camille Schrier, Matthew Morrison, the cast and Muppets of Sesame Street ® , Leslie Odom Jr., Keke Palmer, Dolly Parton (on behalf of Cracker Barrel Old Country Store ® ), Pentatonix, Bebe Rexha, Jordin Sparks, Sebastián Yatra, and Brett Young with an extra special appearance by the one-and-only Santa Claus.
Returning for a fourth year by popular demand, a special presentation of the Macy’s Singing Christmas Tree will feature the harmonious voices of 60 Macy’s colleagues who will join us from their homes across the country coming together in a golden-voiced chorus filled with the spirit of the holiday season.
Since 1927, when the Parade’s character balloons first joined the revelry, the inflatables have become a signature element featuring some of the world’s most beloved characters. Over time, the inflatables have morphed from air-filled characters carried on sticks to high-flying giants, balloonheads, hybrid inflatables with vehicles inside (balloonicles) or tandem tricycles (trycaloons).
New giants joining the line-up this year include The Boss Baby by DreamWorks Animation’s “The Boss Baby: Family Business” and Red Titan from “Ryan’s World” by Sunlight Entertainment and pocket.watch. The newest balloon stars will take flight without the traditional 80-100 handlers, instead employing an innovative, specially rigged anchor tether framework of five specialty vehicles field tested and approved by the relevant agencies in the City of New York. Their Thanksgiving Day flights will be manned by a smaller vehicle team helping to safely reduce the overall number of people needed underneath each balloon.
Also making appearances on the national broadcast are giant balloon favorites including Astronaut Snoopy by Peanuts Worldwide Diary of A Wimpy Kid ® by Abrams Children’s Books Sinclair Oil’s DINO ® The Elf on the Shelf ® Chase from PAW Patrol ® by Spin Master ® and Nickelodeon Pikachu ™ by the Pokémon Company International Pillsbury Doughboy ™ Ronald McDonald ® SpongeBob SquarePants & Gary by Nickelodeon and DreamWorks Animation’s Trolls.
The televised inflatable lineup also includes Sinclair Oil’s Baby DINOs and the Go Bowling balloonicles, as well as Hugg, Bjorn, Jojo and Fleck from Netflix’s “The Christmas Chronicles: Part Two,” Love Flies Up to the Sky by Yayoi Kusama © , Universal Orlando Resort’s The Nutcracker and Smokey Bear by the U.S.D.A. Forest Service.
The Parade’s floating stages have morphed from simple creations initially focused on nursery rhyme stories pulled by horses in the first processions to highly animated wonders that take spectators to new worlds. Conceived and crafted by the incredible artisans of Macy’s Parade Studio – a design and production facility that includes carpenters, engineers, electricians, painters, animators, balloon technicians, sculptors, metal fabricators, scenic and costume designers – this year’s line-up of floats sets an unparalleled stage for entertainment. The Parade’s signature floats are marvels of creative design, engineering, and skillful construction. While they may seem to float as three stories tall and several lanes of traffic wide stages, the magic is truly in the design as these floats are built to collapse to no more than 12 ½-feet tall and 8-feet wide in order to travel safely from the New Jersey home of the Parade Studio to the Manhattan starting line via the Lincoln Tunnel for the annual celebration.
This year four new floats will debut including Big Turkey Spectacular by Jennie-O (Bebe Rexha), Christmas in Town Square by Lifetime ® (Tori Kelly), Her Future Is STEM-Sational by Olay (Karol G), and Tom & Jerry’s Tourist Trap by Warner Bros. Pictures.
The returning float roster and its scheduled performers include Blue’s Clues & You! by Nickelodeon (Ally Brooke) The Brick-changer by The LEGO Group (Sebastián Yatra) Central Park by Delta Air Lines (New York City Ballet Principal Dancer Ashley Bouder) Elf Pets ® by the Lumistella Company Everyone’s Favorite Bake Shop by Entenmann’s ® (Sofia Carson) Harvest in the Valley by Green Giant ® (Brett Young) Heartwarming Holiday Countdown by Hallmark Channel (Pentatonix) Mount Rushmore’s American Pride by South Dakota Department of Tourism (Lauren Alaina) Rexy in the City by COACH ® (Keke Palmer) Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles by Nickelodeon (CNCO) Santa’s Sleigh (Santa Claus) Splashing Safari Adventure by Kalahari Resorts and Conventions (Jordin Sparks) Tom Turkey and Toy House of Marvelous Milestones by New York Life (Leslie Odom Jr.).
Health and safety continue to be Macy’s number one priority. In partnership with local and state government, the Parade was modified to avoid gathering crowds. In addition, Macy’s put in place robust health measures across all areas of the production. In constant communication with government agency partners, several contingency plans were developed. This allows the production to adjust plans based on the evolving environment and any subsequent restrictions, helping to ensure the health and safety of all involved.
As part of Macy’s comprehensive health and wellness plan, below is a sampling of the current safety procedures and enhancements being implemented. They include, but are not limited to, the following:
- The traditional 2.5-mile Parade route will not be utilized this year, the only way to view the celebration is on television
- All participants, staff and performers will be tested for COVID-19 and undergo wellness checks prior to their Parade participation
- All participants will be appropriately socially distanced during staging and performances, and required to wear face coverings additional personal protective protocols will be implemented based on the participant’s role
- The overall number of participants have now been reduced by approximately 88%, and split over three days
- No participant in the Parade is under 18 years of age
- The majority of Parade participants hail from the New York tri-state area
- Previously selected regional High School and College Marching Band performances were deferred to the 2021 Macy’s Parade, with locally based cultural and professional marching and musical ensembles taking over performance duties in the lineup
- A minute selection of elements will be showcased on television from previous Parade appearances
- A selection of Macy’s signature giant character balloons will be flown without the traditional 80-100 handlers and instead employ an innovative, specially rigged anchor vehicle framework of five specialty vehicles tested and approved by the NYC Department of Transportation and the NYPD
- Macy’s traditional Giant Balloon Inflation public event in New York City, the evening before Thanksgiving, will not take place
For the fifth consecutive year, NBCUniversal and Verizon, are partnering on Verizon Live: Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade which will be streamed beginning at 9:00 a.m. ET on YouTube.com/Verizon, Twitter @Verizon and select Verizon Media properties, including Yahoo.
The award-winning, Emmy-nominated production, hosted by Mario Lopez, will also bring audiences across the country together through innovative and immersive experiences. For the first time ever, a Parade Portal powered by Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband will be accessible to viewers at home. Watching the livestream from both their 4G or 5G enabled mobile devices, viewers will be transported into the center of the activity in Herald Square with 360-degree views. A QR code will be available within the livestream across all platforms, where viewers can easily scan the code for a second-screen experience.
For the first time in Macy’s Parade broadcast history, in an effort to create a more inclusive experience for blind and visually impaired viewers, NBCUniversal is proud to present the full NBC broadcast with live audio description on the Secondary Audio Program channel (SAP), provided by Descriptive Video Works. This year’s broadcast will be available with additional audio narration, describing the rich visuals of the Parade including the magnificent balloons, floats and performances, to complement the storytelling and celebration that make the Parade an annual Thanksgiving Day tradition for millions of Americans.
For an insider’s look at the holiday procession, fans nationwide should visit macys.com/parade for regular updates including behind-the-scenes previews, special tours, interactive historical information, educational activities, and more. Fans can also follow @macys on various social media networks and join the conversation using #MacysParade.
This Thanksgiving, Macy’s (NYSE: M) will safely bring millions of spectators nationwide a dazzling celebration like no other. Get ready to start the countdown in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 … Let’s Have a Parade!
Delta Air Lines is the official airline of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Hanes is the official “smile” and face mask provider of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Hilton is the official hotel of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Ram is the official truck of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Remo is the official drumhead provider of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Under Armour is the official outerwear provider of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
PLEASE NOTE: All talent, performers, elements and information included are subject to change.
A Visual History of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Balloons
What is Thanksgiving all about? It's about ringing in the season of conspicuous consumerism we call Christmas, right? So what better way to celebrate that than with a department store sponsored holiday tradition: The Macy's Thanksgiving balloons.
The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade has been a staple of New York life since the ✰s and part of the national consciousness since it's been on television. And nothing is as emblematic of the parade as the giant balloons that they haul across the city to the delight of millions. The figures they choose have as much to say about us and our culture as they do about wanting to buy a watch at Macy's. Let's take a look at their history.
And if you want to see the balloons being inflated, head to 77th and 81st Streets and Central Park West before 10pm today. Here's the rest of the info if you're crazy enough to actually want to watch the parade yourself.
A view of the parade in 1931 shows a weird lady balloon and a smiling sun. Boring, but probably awesome for their time.
In 1932 the balloons were still figurative like an alligator, a turkey, and, I don't know, a cannon or some shit. Did they have cannons back then?
More views of our gator friend from 1932.
By the ❠s the parade started with pop cultural figures, like Popeye here, in 1961. Olive Oyl was a block behind, but she's so skinny you can't see here.
This Spider-Man is from 1995 but he sure looks a lot older.
Elmo burst onto the scene in 1997.
This is your childhood. The Rugrats, Arthur, and Bumpe in 1997.
The Garfield must smell lasagna in one of those apartments. He sure partied like it was 1999.
After 9/11 Macy's reintroduced this classic NYC Fire Fighter balloon in 2001.
Arthur was getting long in the tooth by 2001.
This is Little Bill from Bill Cosby's Little Bill series in 2002. If we're making balloons of forgotten Bill Cosby things, Iɽ rather this be a Pudding Pop.
In 2003 the Big Bird balloon suffered a horrible death.
Just like the real estate bubble of 2003, Monopoly man was headed for a bust.
Uncle Sam single handedly fought the war on terror in 2003.
Here is Ask Jeeves in 2004. Shouldn't he be back in the late ➐s somewhere?
By 2004 no one even cares about Charlie Brown.
Spongebob Square Pants is going to dry out in the air like that!
[Image via Getty]
Ronald McDonald is still making people fat in 2006.
Sesame Street characters are always popular with the kids and in 2007, Abby Cadabby made herself appear.
Hello Kitty tried to lure more Japanese tourists in 2007.
Thanks to the Toy Story movies Mr. Potato Head got a new lease on life in 2007.
By 2008 The Energizer Bunny was all out of juice.
Kung Fu Panda was a big hit in 2010. Good thing this balloon isn't as clumsy as the real thing.
Macy's selling Pillsbury in 2010, the age of corporate synergy is complete.
Charlie Brown & His Kite
Charlie Brown is the central protagonist of the long-running comic strip Peanuts, created by Charles M. Schulz, which is syndicated in numerous newspapers all over the world. One of the great American archetypes, Charlie Brown is popular and recognized for being a "lovable loser": a kid who suffers a lot, is very nervous and lacks self-confidence, but sometimes hopes for the best and tries as much as he can to accomplish things. According to Schulz, he is "a caricature of the average person," who is much more acquainted with losing than winning. He, along with his dog Snoopy, was ranked by TV Guide as the eighth greatest cartoon character of all time.
Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade: Sustainable or Not?
When it comes to Thanksgiving, nothing embodies the spirit of the holiday quite like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Debuting in 1924, the parade has become a staple of both Thanksgiving and Americana in general. However, a lot can change in 93 years, and as we’ve become more aware of the negative effect humans can have on the planet, it’s only natural to wonder about the environmental impact of the annual parade. Are these larger-than-life character balloons bad for the planet? (This year’s festivities feature 17 giant character balloons and 28 legacy balloons, balloonicles, balloonheads and trycaloons.) And what is Macy’s doing to mitigate the harmful effects their parade might have?
The Makeup of the Balloons
During the early years of the parade, the balloons were made of rubber, carefully cemented or heat-welded together, then filled with helium. Unfortunately, due to this makeup, the parade was forced to go on a hiatus from 1942 to 1944 during World War II. With the U.S. facing a major rubber and helium shortage, the Macy’s balloons were deflated and donated to the government to support the war effort.
These days, the balloons are made of flexible, durable, leak-resistant polyurethane fabric. Polyurethane fabric can be recycled into a number of different materials (such as rebonded flexible foam or compression-molded products), but I have yet to find any information on whether Macy’s recycles their parade balloons once they are retired. I’ve reached out to Macy’s for comment and will update this article if any new information comes to light.
Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade poster. Photo: Macy’s Inc.
A Question of Helium
We have a real problem regarding helium. If we continue to use helium at the projected rates of consumption, our current reserve will be completely depleted in 40 to 60 years. While the inability to inflate balloons with a lighter-than-air gas isn’t really that concerning, the loss of helium in the scientific and medical communities would be disastrous. Helium’s low boiling point, high thermal conductivity and noncombustible nature makes it indispensable for aerospace engineering, deep-sea diving and cryogenics.
Though there is an abundance of helium in the atmosphere, it is very difficult — and cost prohibitive — to purify. It’s only when it’s trapped underground that we can isolate it. Despite knowing that helium is a nonrenewable resource, a 1996 act of Congress caused the price of helium to drop dramatically, providing almost no impediment for overuse.
While the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade isn’t wasting helium on a gargantuan scale — their purchase only accounts for 10 percent of a single day’s profits the U.S. Treasury makes from the sale of helium — they are in a unique position to bring national attention to the issue. Since 2007, organizers of the parade have been recovering and recycling as much of the helium used to fill their balloons as possible. Unfortunately, the current method of recovery is only mildly effective, but at least they are making a concerted attempt. We can only hope the technology will improve with time.
Sustainability at Macy’s
Like the parade itself, corporate, social and governmental sustainability initiatives have evolved over the years. Macy’s has emerged as a corporate leader in eco-friendly practices and has continued to set industry standards in terms of sustainability. Here are just a few of the ways they’ve stepped up their game:
- They have installed more than 1.8 million LED lamps and fixtures in nearly all stores across the country. In 2016 alone, they saved an estimated 25.7 million kilowatt hours.
- In 2016, solar energy was being generated on 93 active installations at Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s facilities.
- They reduce waste in the merchandise supply chain by standardizing the size of packing cartons, incorporating recycled polyester fibers in woven garment labels and minimizing packaging materials.
- They’ve reduced their energy consumption by 28 percent over the past 10 years.
- They have increased transportation via intermodal rail containers to 48 million miles, thereby reducing carbon emissions by 97 million pounds.
- Their shopping bags are made of 100 percent recycled paper and are recyclable.
- Ninety-nine percent of the paper they use in their marketing materials is recycled.
- In 2016, about 23 percent of their billing statements were delivered to customers electronically.
- They refuse to sell conflict diamonds (and other minerals and metals).
- Their drive to increase sustainability is ongoing, they have solid goals lined out for the next two years.
Though the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade itself may not be the most sustainable of events, when you compare it to the company’s day-to-day sustainability practices, it’s not much more than a drop in the bucket. Their overall accomplishments definitely make up for the potential harm caused by the parade.
Harold the Baseball Player from Miracle on 34th Street is one of the new balloons joining the lineup this year. Photo: Macy’s Inc.
So, come Thanksgiving morning, turn on your TV and breathe easy knowing you’re supporting a company committed to sustainable practices. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has brought joy into the lives of countless people over the past 93 years, and there’s no shame in joining in the celebration. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
NBC traditionally hosts the annual broadcast of the parade, and there will likely be a way to livestream the event, too. We'll have further details how and when to tune in closer to Thanksgiving!
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