I have always loved the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. As a child I tracked the new balloons, woke up early to catch pre-show coverage, and never left the TV until the best part of the parade, Santa, rolled by.
Unsurprisingly, I did a little dance at the opportunity to cover the pre-Thanksgiving day balloon inflation event at 77th and 81st Street in New York’s upper west side. The balloon inflation event opens to the public at 3 p.m. and closes at 10 p.m., attracting around one million visitors. Although a parade studio in New Jersey inflates and patches up the balloons, the balloons are initially inflated on Thanksgiving Eve and topped off on Thanksgiving morning.
It was absolutely cool seeing the balloons I loved as a child close up while speaking to the official Macy’s parade representatives, Orlando V. and Holly T.
Because this is the 85th anniversary of Macy’s Thanksgiving day parade, this year’s parade features a covert 1930s and 1940s theme, including Harold the policeman, a reconstruction of a 1948 balloon; a new balloon style; and a float dedicated to past leaders. Although a fireman in 2003 and a policeman in 2011, Harold undergoes a new job every time Macy’s features him. This year also features a tri-cloon, a half balloon / bicycle (don’t quote me on the spelling). It incorporates a tandem bike with a human rider up front and a fifteen foot balloon in the back. Additionally, the new “Hats off to our Heritage” float tributes the past leaders who all wore distinctive headwear, i.e. cowboy or top hats, during their parade day tenure.
This year’s parade features 15 giant balloons; 44 mid-size balloons like stars and clowns; 11 bands; 27 floats; 1600 performers; and two to three new giant balloons including Sonic the Hedgehog, the AFLAC duck, and a Paul Frank monkey. The giant balloons typically take 80-100 handlers and the smaller balloons around 10-40. Additionally, Tim Burton’s 20-handler balloon will provide a new entry to the Blue Sky series, surrounding artists steeped in modern art and popular culture.
In addition to the typical balloons and floats, they also have balloonicles, part vehicle and part balloon, constituted of air, with a fabric bottom that hides the human-operated car, but doesn’t obscure his vision. Although Spider-Man measures around 65 feet long; this year, Kung Fu Panda, SpongeBob (with 15000 cubic feet helium), and Kermit the Frog are among the biggest. Additionally, this year features a new elf balloon, designed by Keith L., a 25-year-old Queens-based graphic designer who won the nation-wide competition.
For celebrity performers or artists, the committee typically asks those steeped in popular culture. Tim Burton’s MOMA exhibit inspired them to work with him to create a balloon. However, it’s more competitive for the bands where Macy’s selects bands two years in advance from 150-200 annual applications. The celebrities typically rehearse Monday and Tuesday night (including this year’s acts Neil Diamond, Avril Lavigne, and Scotty McCreery) while the bands rehearse Thanksgiving Eve.
The parade typically attracts around 3.5 million live spectators and 50 million television watchers.