Nothing marks the beginning of the holiday spirit quite as much as the Macy’s Day Parade. Balloons, floats and performers take over the New York City streets, and when Santa closes the parade, it’s officially the season.
From Roaring Bears to Floating Cats
The Macy’s Day Parade might be a household name and a Thanksgiving tradition, but it had a relatively humble beginning. In 1924, Macy’s decided to host a parade to celebrate its giant store in New York City and to usher in the holiday season. The size of the parade was modest, in that the whole caravan was only about two blocks, yet Macy’s employees dressed as fairy tale characters, floats, and animals marched for six miles.
The first year of the parade included exotic animals from the Central Park Zoo, but when this frightened children, Macy’s decided to replace them with balloon animals instead. The first balloon to join the parade was Felix the Cat in 1927. Since then, more than a hundred balloons have appeared in the Macy’s Day Parade, with many returning year after year.
The parade marched to the Macy’s store, where 10,000 people greeted Santa Claus, who marked the end of the event as he still does nowadays. Since then, the parade has taken place every year except during World War II.
The Parade Today
The parades of the past were small in comparison to how popular the parade is now. About 3.5 million people watch the parade in person, and a staggering 50 million people watch it on TV.
If you’re in New York City, be sure to catch some of the behind the scenes of the parade. The day before Thanksgiving, parade workers inflate the massive balloons on the grounds of The American Museum of Natural History. Watch as the balloons go from a pile of material to a towering character, held in place by a giant net until the next morning. Be sure to stop by early because people start inflating the balloons at around 3:00 pm.
If you’re one of the 3.5 million people who want to watch the parade in person, you’ll want to get a spot as early as possible, and dress warm. The most popular spots to watch the parade are Central Park West, which is the first spot the parade goes through; Columbus Circle, where viewers can get a spot inside and above the action, and the historic Sixth Avenue.
Once the parade starts to roll, keep an eye out for parade favorites like the dancing Rockettes, the Charlie Brown balloon, performances from Broadway stars and pop artists, and of course, Santa himself.
After the Parade
For all its glory, the parade only lasts three hours at most. But after the parade, you’re in one of the best cities in the world during one of the best times of the year. Check off visiting classic spots like Times Square and Central Park, or catch a play on Broadway. For an event almost as iconic and festive as the Macy’s Day Parade, you can also watch the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree lighting.
The Coziest View
Want to see the parade without the crowds or the cold? There are several hotels in New York City that have views of the route. The Mandarin Oriental is near Columbus Circle. Or, the New York Hilton offers special packages for viewing the parade. You can also stay at the Warwick Hotel, which has been around for almost as long as the parade, and is equally historic.
Book rooms in these hotels as soon as possible, as they’re highly competitive. If the classics are sold out, there are many other options. Reservation Counter offers hotels in New York City that are just as diverse as the floats in the parade.