Everything to Know About the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade 2021

The annual event marks the Thanksgiving holiday and kicks off the Christmas season. Here's when and how to watch it.

About to observe its 95th celebration, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is an American institution. Known for its high-flying balloons, intricately designed floats, A-list celebrity performances, and marching band beats, it’s must-see TV for families across the United States. Considering it is so steeped in history and nostalgia, it’s no surprise there’s a rich backstory to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. After all, the greats always have an origin story, and the parade is no exception.

As its name suggests, the parade occurs on Thanksgiving Day. (When is Thanksgiving 2021? That’d be November 25.) While you’re doing Thanksgiving crafts for kids, engaging in your favorite Thanksgiving traditions, and sharing some Thanksgiving quotes around the dinner table, a marching band is leading the charge down the streets of New York City.

When you set out to impress your tablemates this year, don’t simply share details about the real history of Thanksgiving. Casually drop tidbits about the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade too.

What’s the history of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade?

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was originally established as a promotional tool for the iconic department store. Back in 1924 (the year of the first parade), Macy’s was unveiling its newly renovated flagship location in Manhattan’s famed Herald Square. The store was so enormous, so dazzling, that apparently it warranted a holiday spectacle to alert the masses. Who knew that it would end up becoming a beloved holiday tradition?

Keep in mind that the original event didn’t look exactly like it does today. In fact, the inaugural parade didn’t mention Thanksgiving at all.

That first parade was all about Christmas, which was probably a smart marketing move on the part of Macy’s. It was a not-so-subtle reminder that the gift-giving holiday was just around the corner. Of course, now there are even stores open on Thanksgiving so shoppers have an even earlier chance to hand over their money.

What did the first parade look like?

Macy's Thanksgiving Day ParadeFPG/Getty Images

On November 27, 1924, the parade kicked off at the corner of 145th Street and Convent Avenue to the delight of spectators.

The very first floats had a Mother Goose-like theme, with characters like Little Miss Muffet and Little Red Riding Hood gracing the attractions. Zoo animals—think elephants, tigers, and camels—marched the streets. And Macy’s employees dressed up as clowns and other characters to entertain the folks who lined the streets to catch a glimpse of the excitement.

Interestingly, we wouldn’t see the first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon for three years. In 1927, the parade took to the skies, with Felix the Cat as the first balloon to travel the route. It’s gotten bigger and better ever since (though it took a brief hiatus during World War II).

Will Macy’s host a Thanksgiving Day Parade in 2021?

Yes, plans for the celebration are underway! Time to get in the mood with some Thanksgiving quotes.

Last year, the parade was televised due to COVID-19. That’s not the case this year, but with the pandemic still raging across the country, Macy’s is tweaking some aspects to ensure safety. It will reduce the number of parade participants by about 20 percent to institute proper social distancing along the route.

What time does the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade start?

Traditionally, the parade starts at 9 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning, with its grand finale hovering around noon. That’s the case for all time zones, so you don’t have to worry about adjusting your schedule for East Coast time.

The last person to grace the parade route, of course, is always Santa Claus to usher in the Christmas season. With that being said, NBC often provides televised coverage on The Today Show before the event gets underway because many of the show’s anchors host the parade. (The 2021 hosts have yet to be announced, though.)

Those early outdoor mornings are typically chilly ones. On average, the temperature in New York City is in the low 40s so early in the morning. Thankfully, it tends to warm up as the parade gets underway. In 1941, when the parade was in its 17th year, the Big Apple experienced its warmest-ever Thanksgiving with a high of 72 degrees. Talk about a reason to be thankful!

What’s the route of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade?

Clifford the Big Red Dog in Macy's Thanksgiving Day ParadeDavid Jay Zimmerman/Getty Images

While the first parade started in Harlem at 145th and Convent and ended at Macy’s in Herald Square (located at 151 West 34th Street), that’s no longer the case. Today, the procession takes a different approach.

While the 2021 route hasn’t been officially announced, there’s a good chance it’ll follow in the footsteps of past parades. The kickoff typically convenes at 77th Street and Central Park West, starting at 9 a.m. on the dot.

The parade then hangs a left when it reaches 59th Street, followed by a right down 6th Avenue. From there, the balloons, floats, and performers stay on course until they reach 34th Street. That mark requires another right turn until they wrap the whole shebang up at 34th Street and 7th Avenue.

Whew! We’re tired just thinking about those 2.65 miles of walking, dancing, and floating (those balloons have it easy). At least the route is shorter than it used to be. At its inception, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade traveled a whopping six miles from start to finish. That’s 111 city blocks!

At least such a long route provides enough room for the many, many people involved in pulling off the main event. The parade usually needs about 4,000 volunteers every year to make it a success, though that number will be lower this year because COVID-19 is still very much a public health concern.

How do I watch, and is there streaming of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade?

If you’re a true parade lover, the most exciting way to watch the event is to be there in person. It’s recommended that spectators arrive at the route no later than 6:30 a.m. to secure a decent spot. This is definitely an instance where the early bird catches the worm.

Not in the New York City area? Well, grab a cup of coffee (or steal a slice of pumpkin pie) and curl up in front of your TV because you’ll actually get the best viewing angle from the comfort of your own home.

You can watch the parade broadcast on NBC (check your local listings for the channel number), NBC’s website, and the NBC app. A fun piece of Thanksgiving trivia: The parade has been airing on NBC since 1948. In past years, CBS has also broadcast parade coverage.

No cable? No problem. Streaming the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is possible, but live streams do vary by area, so you’ll want to check with the provider you use to make sure you can catch it on your favorite service. In the past, the parade has been available on DirecTV Stream, Hulu + Live TV, Sling TV, YouTube TV, and FuboTV. Keep an eye out for 2021 details as the holiday nears!

Sources:

  • Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
  • History: “The First Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade”
  • CNN Travel: “The history of Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade: 5 things you may not know”
  • Spectrum News NY1: “NYC’s Warmest Thanksgiving That Never Happened”
  • Macy’s: “Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Returns To March Down The Streets Of New York City, Kicking Off The Holiday Season For New Yorkers and The Nation”
  • NYC Tourist: “Past Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Route Map”
  • NBC: “Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade: The Annual Thanksgiving Event”
  • Lifewire: “How to Live Stream Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade”

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