Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade 2021: What is the annual New York pageant and where can I watch it?

Big Apple department store's annual balloon extravaganza has been running since 1924

Joe Sommerlad
Thursday 25 November 2021 12:10
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The Macy’s Day Parade is a fixture of America’s annual Thanksgiving celebrations, watched by thousands on the streets of New York City and millions more on TV at home.

The pageant is known for its floats, costumed revellers, brass bands and enormous balloons of popular cartoon characters like Snoopy, Paddington Bear and The Grinch, always a surreal sight coasting between the skyscrapers.

Following last year’s scaled-back event in response to the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s parade will be back to full strength and feature 15 giant character blimps, 28 floats, 36 novelty and heritage inflatables, more than 800 clowns, 10 marching bands and nine performance groups and, of course, Santa Claus bringing up the rear.

The world’s largest pageant has taken place every year since 1924 when it was first introduced by the famous department chain, whose flagship store sits on 34th Street.

Now in its 95th instalment, the event no longer features wild animals borrowed from the Central Park Zoo as it did in its inaugural year.

Macy’s version, concluding with the welcoming of Old Saint Nick into Herald Square, quickly eclipsed the preceding Ragamuffin Day, which had seen children go from door-to-door dressed as beggars to collect sweets, a similar practice to Halloween trick-or-treating.

The advent of the Great Depression, which left many in a state of real destitution, saw Ragamuffin Day gradually phased out altogether on good taste grounds.

Balloons were first introduced to the Macy’s lineup at the suggestion of Anthony Frederick Sarg, a marionette performer tasked with designing the store’s seasonal window display.

He did so using giant balloon animals custom-built by the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company of Akron, Ohio, which proved so popular with shoppers they were taken out on tour with the marchers in 1927, replacing the zoo animals.

The first character from popular culture to be featured is thought to have been Felix the Cat in 1931, with the all-American Mickey Mouse not taking a bow until 1934.

Following the US entry into the Second World War, the parade was suspended between 1942 and 1944 but was revived for the jubilant Thanksgiving of November 1945 and two years later played a prominent role in the film Miracle on 34th Street about a child’s encounter with the real Father Christmas working at the department store.

It has run smoothly ever since, barring the occasional burst balloon here and there, as when a gust of wind snagged one on a lamppost in Times Square in 2005 and injured two bystanders.

Global events have meant security concerns have been to the fore in recent years, with the NYPD out in force and police sharpshooters stationed on Manhattan rooftops to keep a watchful eye over proceedings that could provide a target for acts of terror.

New balloon giants joining the line-up for 2021’s edition include Ada Twist, Scientist; Baby Yoda, the pint-sized hero of The Mandalorian; and the Pokemon characters Pikachu and Eevee on a sledge.

Broadway will be represented by the casts of the hit musicals Six, Chicago, Waitress, Moulin Rouge! and Wicked.

The Rockettes will be there, as will the cast of the upcoming NBC live production of Annie.

There will be new floats led by the cast of Girls5eva - Sara Bareilles, Renee Elise Goldsberry, Paula Pell and Busy Philipps - while jazz pianist Jon Batiste will be on an alligator-themed float celebrating Louisiana’s music, food and culture.

Other celebrities on hand will include Carrie Underwood, Jimmie Allen, Kelly Rowland, Rob Thomas, Kristin Chenoweth, Darren Criss, Foreigner, Andy Grammer, Mickey Guyton, Chris Lane, Miss America Camille Schrier, Muppets from Sesame Street and the three past and current hosts of Blue’s Clues - Steve Burns, Donovan Patton and Josh Dela Cruz.

Some of the returning balloon favourites include The Boss Baby, Chase from Paw Patrol, the Pillsbury Doughboy, Ronald McDonald, Red Titan from Ryan’s World, Papa Smurf, Sonic the Hedgehog and SpongeBob SquarePants.

The parade takes place between 9am EST and noon on Thanksgiving morning and its route runs, as usual, south from West 77th Street & Central Park West on the Upper West Side to Macy’s Herald Square in the Garment District.

The big show will be officially broadcast in its entirety on NBC, with Savannah Guthrie, Hoda Kotb, and Al Roker fronting a three-hour show, while CBS will also be airing coverage of its own.

You can also catch the parade online across a range of streaming platforms that carry NBC, including Peacock, Paramount+ and streaming services that offer live TV content like Hulu, YouTube TV, DirectTV Stream and Fubo.

Additional reporting by agencies

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