NYC’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade: a look back and what the crew learned

Millions of residents in New York will see the balloons this weekend, but how has their favourite float made it down the road? Take a look

After a year’s break, New York’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is back this weekend, and you’ll be able to catch every single float – from SpongeBob SquarePants to Elf on a Shelf – thanks to live streaming.

One thing is certain: it will be awesome. It’s actually hard to pick just one of the giant balloons, which have been a New York tradition since 1924, so that this experiment is up. However, the entire troupe is now made up of a cast of thousands. The Macy’s production team is divided into mavericks and professionals who are paid by the foot for their balloon-making efforts. The professional group has worked together for 40 years.

And all of them? They have shared their experience with me. What we found is a mind-blowing experience that speaks volumes about what it means to care and develop friendships that go beyond the boundaries of work, or even belonging.

Q&A What are your favourite Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parades? Show Hide Choose your favourite Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and share it with us here. Here are some good places to start:

1. NYC’s 9 May event shows the influence of the holiday in 1970s ‘ghetto’ Brooklyn

2. Early years of the event reveal early experimentation in balloon design and seasonal production, illustrating changes in industry and culture

3. A number of late-70s additions went on to become regular Macy’s parade characters. The lion and the turkey (Macy’s was the first to include animals in the parades) were first sketched in New York’s Central Park (the turkey was drawn by a balloon-maker in Cleveland, and the lion by cartoonist Lucy Lumert, who went on to develop an empire in its midst as Good Luck Charlie).

4. The Queen, pageantry and snow – early New York iterations of the parade

5. In 2015, Barney reunited with Scooby-Doo and Hot Topic’s Elmo

6. Early development is not simply restricted to balloon making – the parade experience reflects the diverse internationality of immigrant communities in New York

7. And then there’s Grover, in his own words: “During the later months of the year, when the artist is at home in her studio, there is still time to see how the balloons in her studio are doing. It is always fun to take a walk down the street, checking for things that look amiss. And if there is a balloon that is beginning to tire, I will give it a tune-up.”

Lucy Lumert balloon designer, now at The Thanksgiving Parade Production Team – this year’s cast of fictional mavericks are Elmo, Mickey, and SpongeBob SquarePants



The balloons in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York have been built over the past 40 years – Photograph: Paul Sakuma/AP

So that tells you a little about balloon making. But what about the connections made and friendships made in this way, at all different stages of the development of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade? And how is that different from experiences you have in work or school? As the parade started to change in the late 1970s, that was a real turning point for an area and a time that many New Yorkers did not see as part of their own cultural histories. That transformation inspired art and expression. It presented opportunities for more real and genuine and honest expression.

And there is always something new about Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade to discover. Not only the parade itself, but it’s never-ending, unpredictable creation story, about living your dreams and growing up, taking the lead, making your own destiny, and chasing after the things that matter.

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