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Buzz Lightyear balloon during Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, 2008 Buzz Lightyear was one of the giant helium balloons in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in 2008. Buzz will return in this year's parade on Thursday, November 26. (Photo: Peter Foley/epa/Corbis)

Thanksgiving Day Parade Takes a New Turn

In its 83rd year, the famous New York City parade says goodbye to Broadway and follows a new route

By Laura Linn | November 23 , 2009
The old and new routes of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City. (Map: Jim McMahon)
The old and new routes of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City. (Map: Jim McMahon)

For millions of Americans, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is as much a part of the November holiday as the turkey and the pumpkin pie. Some parade lovers will notice that this year’s event has a new twist—or rather, a new turn. For the first time, the New York City parade will not march down Broadway through the famous Times Square area. Instead, the bands and balloons will turn down Seventh Avenue.

Why the change? Cars and trucks are no longer allowed to drive down Broadway in the Times Square area. Last spring, the area became a pedestrian zone, or area for walkers only. So the area is now off-limits to parade floats and the cars and trucks that pull them.

This may not seem like a big change, but it is huge for the businesses in Times Square. People who run hotels, shops, and restaurants along the old route fear they may lose money now that the parade no longer marches past their doors.

“It’s not good for Times Square,” Mustapha ben Khallouk, an electronics salesman who works in the area, told the New York Times. “Thanksgiving is one of the busiest days of the year for us—people stay all day.”

From the Museum to Macy’s

The route was changed one other time in the parade’s 83-year history: In 1946, the starting point was moved from 145th Street to 77th Street, in front of the American Museum of Natural History.

As always, this year’s parade will end in front of the flagship, or main, Macy’s department store at Herald Square.

Balloons Still Flying High

Despite the new direction taken this year, much about the 2009 parade will remain familiar: Throngs of spectators will line the streets to enjoy marching bands, floats, and the parade’s signature giant helium balloons that fly above the crowds. Some new balloons this year—Mickey Mouse dressed as a sailor, updated Spiderman and Ronald McDonald balloons, and the Pillsbury Dough Boy—join favorite characters such as Buzz Lightyear, Snoopy, and Shrek.

Parades Past

The first Macy’s parade was held on Thanksgiving Day in 1924. Back then, it was called the Macy’s Christmas Parade. Employees of the store dressed in costume and marched along with bands and live animals from New York City’s Central Park Zoo.

In 1927, the live animals were replaced with the now-famous giant helium balloons. Felix the Cat, a cartoon character that first appeared in silent films, was one of the first balloons.

Macy’s put the balloons and bands on hold from 1942 to 1944, during World War II. No one felt like celebrating, and parade supplies like helium and rubber were needed for the war effort. In 1945, the parade returned and was shown on television for the first time.

Parade Facts

  • The 2009 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will begin at 9:00 a.m. on Thursday, November 26. It will be broadcast from 9:00 to 12:00 noon (in all time zones) on NBC.
  • The parade is expected to attract approximately 3 million viewers in New York City and about 44 million television viewers.
  • This year’s parade will feature 1,500 dancers, cheerleaders, singers, and performers. There will be 15 giant character balloons, 800 clowns, 24 floats, and 10 marching bands.
  • Today, Macy’s is the world’s second-largest consumer of helium. (The United States government is the largest helium consumer.)
  • The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has ended each year with Santa Claus, except in 1933. That year he led the parade.

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