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Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade: Inspiring Wonder and Joy for More than 100 years

Macy's first Thanksgiving Day Parade with float of santa and women in santa outfits walking beside float waving

The 1920s were buzzing! As America grooved to jazz, Macy’s in New York City stood out like a star. In 1924, Macy’s, proud of its big new store in Herald Square, threw a huge parade. Though many thought it was for Thanksgiving, the “Macy’s Christmas Parade” was a big kickoff for Christmas shopping. So, come with me, and let’s dive into this exciting story!

Gimbel’s Leads the way.

Many mistakenly credit Macy’s with starting the Thanksgiving parade tradition, but it was Philadelphia’s Gimbel Brothers Department Store that held the first store-sponsored Thanksgiving parade in 1920. Similarly, J.L. Hudson’s Department Store in Detroit planned its event in 1924. But Macy’s took this tradition and magnified it on a grander scale.

Macy’s Christmas Parade Debuts

1924: Imagine the streets of New York alive with excitement! With rosy cheeks and wide-eyed wonder, children line the streets from 145th Street to Macy’s. Stories they had only read about or heard in bedtime tales — from Mother Goose legends to the animals of Central Park Zoo — all paraded right before their eyes. And, of course, bringing up the rear with joy and jubilation was Santa himself.

Macy’s trades in roars for floats and balloons: 

While the children loved the spectacle, the mighty roars from the zoo animals made some jumpy. But Macy’s had an innovative solution!

By 1927, instead of the live animals, the New York skyline was dotted with giant helium balloons, with Felix the Cat playfully leading the pack.

A Parade of Memories: 

Through time, the parade mirrored the heartbeat of society, with each decade sprinkling its magic. Imagine the thrill of:

  • 1934: Mickey Mouse waltzing into hearts for the first time.
  • 1947: Millions, sitting by their TV sets as the parade was televised nationally for the first time.
  • And the pride post-1979, when the parade strutted with 9 Emmy Awards.

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Today: 

While the parade’s route has been shortened to two-and-a-half miles, its essence has grown richer. The spectacle now boasts dozens of balloons, marching bands, celebrities, and cheerleaders. Despite its changes over the years, one constant remains: Santa Claus’s grand arrival in Herald Square, marking the onset of the Christmas season in New York.

Macy’s Legacy: 

Macy’s history is as rich as the parade itself. From its modest beginning as a dry goods store in 1858 with day-one sales of $11.06 to its move to Herald Square in 1902 and its transformation into the world’s largest store in 1924, Macy’s journey is truly remarkable. Its evolution and mergers, especially the formation of Federated Department Stores in 1929 (now known as Macy’s, Inc.), including other giants like Bloomingdale’s, underscore its influential role in the American retail landscape.

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is more than just a parade – it’s a vibrant celebration of happiness, transformation, and heritage. It shines brightly as a treasured memory; year after year, it ignites the spark of youthful delight and nostalgia in all our hearts, reminding us that it’s okay if we never outgrow some experiences. 

For me and my family, it will always be a time of joy, excitement, and childlike wonder that only improves with age. 

Sources:  Library of Congress, The History Channel

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