After the American Revolution the first national Thanksgiving Day, proclaimed by President George Washington, was Nov. 26, 1789, and the Episcopal Church began celebrating an annual day of thanksgiving on the first Thursday in November. Some states established an annual Thanksgiving Day, but there was no annual national holiday until President Abraham Lincoln, urged by Sarah J. Hale, proclaimed one in 1863, appointing as the date the last Thursday of November. Although the only known contemporary account of the 1621 Plymouth harvest celebration had been rediscovered in 1841, the national Thanksgiving Day initially was not officially linked to it.
In 1939, 1940, and 1941 President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed Thanksgiving the next-to-last Thursday in November. Conflicts arose between Roosevelt's proclamation and about half of those of state governors, and in 1941 Congress passed a joint resolution decreeing that Thanksgiving should fall on the fourth Thursday of November. The day is observed by church services and family reunions; the customary turkey dinner is a reminder of the wildfowl served at the Pilgrims' celebration. Canadians also celebrate a national Thanksgiving Day, on the second Monday in October; prior to 1957 it was on the last Monday of the month.
In 1924, the annual Thanksgiving parade started by Louis Bamberger in Newark, New Jersey at the Bamberger's store was transferred to New York by Macy's. In New York, the employees marched to Macy's flagship store on 34th Street dressed in vibrant costumes. There were floats, professional bands and live animals borrowed from the Central Park Zoo. At the end of that first parade, as has been the case with every parade since, Santa Claus was welcomed into Herald Square. At this first parade, however, the Jolly Old Elf was enthroned on the Macy's balcony at the 34th Street store entrance, where he was then "crowned" "King of the Kiddies." With an audience of over a quarter of a million people, the parade was such a success that Macy's declared it would become an annual event.
Large animal-shaped balloons produced by The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company in Akron, Ohio replaced the live animals in 1927 when the Felix the Cat balloon made its debut. Felix was filled with air, but by the next year, helium was used to fill the expanding cast of balloons.
As the finale of the 1928 parade, the balloons were released into the sky where they unexpectedly burst. The following year they were redesigned with safety valves to allow them to float for a few days. Address labels were sewn into them, so that whomever found and mailed back the discarded balloon received a gift from Macy's
Through the 1930s, the Parade continued to grow, with crowds of over 1 million lining the parade route in 1933. The first Mickey Mouse balloon entered the parade in 1934. The annual festivities were broadcast on local New York radio through 1941.
The parade was suspended for the duration of World War II, owing to the need for rubber and helium in the war effort. The parade resumed in 1945 using the route that it currently follows (see below). The parade became a permanent part of American culture after being prominently featured in the 1947 film, Miracle on 34th Street, which shows actual footage of the 1946 festivities. The event was first telecast nationally in 1952 (see below). On the NBC telecast from in front of the flagship Macy's store on Broadway and 34th Sreet,the marching bands perform live music but most of the other live acts such as songs from Broadway musicals use pre-recorded music with the performers lip-syncing their singing.
Macy's also sponsors the smaller Celebrate the Season Parade in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, held two days after the main event. Other cities in the US also have parades on Thanksgiving, but they are not run by Macy's. The nation's oldest Thanksgiving parade (the Gimbels parade, now known as 6abc/Boscov's) was first held in Philadelphia in 1920. Other cities include the McDonald's Thanksgiving Parade of Chicago, Illinois and parades in: Plymouth, Massachusetts; Seattle, Washington; Houston, Texas; Detroit, Michigan; and Fountain Hills, Arizona. Since 1994, a "rival" of sorts, called the Parade Spectacular, has been run in Stamford, Connecticut. It is run on the Sunday before Thanksgiving to not directly compete with the Macy's parade and the balloon characters are not duplicated between the 2 parades. (Macy's in fact has sponsored this parade in a lesser fashion in the past.)
New safety measures were incorporated in 2006 to prevent accidents and balloon related injuries. One measure taken was installation of wind measurement devices to alert parade organizers to any unsafe conditions that could cause the balloons to behave erratically. Also, parade officials implemented a measure to keep the balloons closer to the ground during windy conditions.
The balloons for the parade are inflated the day before (Wednesday) on both sides of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. The balloons are split between 77th and 81st Streets between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue. The inflation team consists of various volunteers from Macy's as well as students from Stevens Institute of Technology, a local university in Hoboken, NJ where the balloons and floats are designed and built. The inflation is open to the public the afternoon and night before the parade.
In addition to the well-known balloons and floats, the parade also features live music and other performances. College and high school marching bands from across the country participate in the parade, and the television broadcasts feature performances by famous singers and bands. The Radio City Rockettes are a classic performance as well.
Performers in 2007 include: Ashley Tisdale, Bindi Irwin and her mother, Terri Irwin, Corbin Bleu, Dolly Parton, Good Charlotte, Jonas Brothers, Lifehouse, Menudo, Ne-Yo, Sarah Brightman, Jonathan Groff, Lea Michele, Wynonna Judd, and Jordin Sparks.
At first, the telecasts were only an hour long. In the 1960's, they expanded to two hours , and by the 1970's, all three hours of it were being televised.
Between 1987 and 1997, the NBC telecast coverage was hosted by the Today Show's Bryant Gumbel and Willard Scott. During that period, their co-hosts were Mary Hart, Sandy Duncan, Deborah Norville, and Katie Couric; In 1995, Al Roker joined the live parade coverage. Matt Lauer picked up hosting duties in 1998 when Willard Scott left. In 2006, the hosting team consisted of Meredith Vieira, Matt Lauer and Al Roker; effectively, this is the cast of The Today Show since the parade's first hour (and, as of 2007, the second hour as well) falls within that show's regular time slot. The parade was announced by various NBC announcers like Don Pardo and Bill Wendell. In 1999, Late Night with Conan O'Brien announcer Joel Goddard took over. From the early 80s until circa 1994, the show was produced and directed by Dick Schneider; since circa 1994, the telecast has been executive produced by Brad Lachman, produced by Bill Bracken and directed by Gary Halvorson. The musical director for the TV coverage is the veteran composer/arranger Milton DeLugg.
Since 2003, parade coverage has been simulcast in Spanish language on NBC Universal-owned Telemundo. Parade coverage has won nine Emmy Awards for Outstanding Achievement in Special Event Coverage since 1979.
While NBC and Telemundo serve as the parade's official broadcasters under an agreement with Macy's, the parade itself occurs on public streets, meaning that Macy's cannot prevent other broadcasters from broadcasting their own coverage. For several years, CBS also televised portions of the parade as part of its wraparound "All-American Thanksgiving Day Parade" coverage, which included parades in Detroit, Nashville (later replaced by Miami) and, for reasons unexplained, two month old taped footage from the Aloha Floral Parade, which is held in Honolulu every September. Since 2002, the remaining wraparound segments have been dropped with coverage focusing exclusively on the New York parade, under the title "The Thanksgiving Day Parade on CBS," without the endorsement of Macy's. (This lack of endorsement also means that parade events, e.g. musical performances, that are timed to the NBC coverage may not appear on CBS; to compensate, CBS will substitute other taped performances.)
Houston, Texas, St. Louis, Missouri and Detroit, Michigan are the largest television markets to have the parade pre-empted for locally based parades. Houston's CBS affiliate, KHOU-TV, covers the annual march through downtown Houston, and WDIV-TV in Detroit pre-empts NBC coverage for that city's "America's Thanksgiving Day Parade". And for years, KSDK-TV pre-empted NBC's coverage for the local Thanksgiving Day Parade in St. louis, but now (as of 2007) KMOV-TV carries the event. Because the coverage is carried by two networks, viewers in those cities can watch the Macy's parade on the other network's station, and thus the parade is not entirely pre-empted in those markets.
In 2008, a Coca Cola CGI ad aired in the USA during Super Bowl XLII. The commercial's plot consisted of Underdog and fictional Stewie Griffin balloons chasing a Coke bottle-shaped balloon through New York City. The spot ended with a Charlie Brown balloon holding the Coke balloon. The advertisement won a Silver Lion Award at the annual Lions International Advertising Festival in Cannes, France that year.
The shortened Parade route offered at least one convenience: it eliminated the need for the large balloons to be carried under the elevated subway lines. Today, New York City officials preview the parade route and try to eliminate as many potential obstacles as possible, even going as far as rotating overhead traffic signals out of the way.
The parade rehearsal takes place the night prior (usually at midnight), with no balloons.
Since 2002, Macy's Studios has partnered with the Universal Orlando Resort (owned by NBC Universal) to bring balloons and floats from New York to the theme park in Florida every holiday season. The parade is performed daily and includes the iconic Santa Claus float. Performers from the Orlando area are cast as various clowns, and the park invites guests to be "balloon handlers" for the parade.