Thanksgiving parade a favorite tradition

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Life Moments column
By Christine Bryant

One of my favorite times of the year is waking up Thanksgiving morning and turning on the TV.

Though I love football, watching the Lions and Cowboys play their respective games isn’t the best part of the day for me.

It’s in the hours leading up to the games when thousands of spectators line the streets to see marching bands, floats and balloons towering three stories high.

It’s the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and in all its glory, officially kicks off the holiday season (though walk through any store and you’ve likely already spotted Christmas trees, wrapping paper and the season’s hottest toys lining the shelves.)

In an era where it seems like sports stadiums are renamed every two years, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade always has been named after the department store.

However, though it was held on Thanksgiving Day, the parade actually was known at one time as Macy’s Christmas Parade.

After successfully going public in 1922, R. H. Macy & Co. expanded its flagship location in Manhattan’s Herald Square to cover an entire 34th Street block that stretched from Broadway to Seventh Avenue.

With 1 million square feet of retail space, it was considered the “World’s Largest Store,” and to kick off the holiday shopping season, the store threw New York a parade on Thanksgiving morning in 1924.

Though this parade has been the most famous Thanksgiving Day parade for decades, what you may not know is it wasn’t the first.

Philadelphia’s Gimbel Brothers Department Store first staged a Thanksgiving procession in 1920, and J.L. Hudson’s Department Store in Detroit held a similar event in 1924.

The Macy’s parade didn’t always feature its signature helium-filled balloons either. Early in its history, the parade included living zoo animals.

After a few years of not enjoying the then six-mile parade route and frightening kids along the way, the animals were replaced. Parade organizers opted to include character balloons instead – leading to the tradition most of us know today.

One tradition, however, that hasn’t carried over was the fate of those balloons. At the finale of the 1928 parade, balloon pilots released them into the sky. After they burst, the following year, the balloons were redesigned to include safety valves.

Designers sewed address labels into the balloons, and after a few days of floating, the balloons eventually made their way back to the ground. Anyone who found a balloon could mail it back and receive a gift from Macy’s.

Although the parade has grown and evolved over the decades, its endearing qualities have made it a favorite tradition among adults and children alike.

It’s been a beloved Thanksgiving morning ritual of mine since I was a small child, and I can’t imagine a turkey day without it.

Christine Bryant is a Messenger staff writer and columnist.

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