The 2018 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Brings Broadway and Anime

A Thanksgiving tradition, the Macy’s parade originally launched in anticipation of a different holiday. We look at how bands, balloons, and Broadway bring the event to life.

People in elf costumes holding letter blocks that spell "Thanksgiving" during the Macy's Thanksgivng Parade

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Thanksgiving comes loaded with a number of traditions, but few match the sheer size of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Since 1924, the Macy’s store event has grown to be the world’s largest parade and a perennial television fixture. Seen on NBC since 1952, the parade will once again start at 9 a.m. eastern time on Thanksgiving morning. We’re taking a look at some of the facts and figures surrounding a big event that only seems to get bigger.

1. 2018 is number 92.

Macy's Department Store
Macy’s Department Store. (Photo by Mike Strand; Wikimedia Commons)

This year marks the 92nd installment of the parade. If you feel like the math on the years doesn’t quite add up, that’s because the parade was suspended in 1942, 1943, and 1944; that was due to World War II and the fact that supplies that might have gone to the creation of balloons and floats were otherwise in use or donated to the war effort.

2. It Gets Bigger All the Time.

Grinch Balloon
The Grinch balloon (with Max) attempts to steal Thanksgiving in 2017. (Shutterstock)

The original affair only had enough participants to stretch two city blocks; today, the route runs for two-and-half miles before the parade even makes a turn. The parade lineup boasts a combination of balloons, “balloonicles” (inflated objects or figures that move on the ground), floats, bands, performing groups, celebrities, and, yes, clowns. Parade attendance broke one million for the first time in 1933; this year, it’s expected to be over three million. The 1947 film Miracle on 34th Street was credited with raising the parade’s national profile; regular national television broadcasts began the following year. Last year’s installment was one of the two highest-rated non-sports event programs on television (the other being the Academy Awards).

3. Goku Just Went Super Saiyan Balloon!

Gaku Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon
The Goku balloon. (Image ©Macy’s Inc.; Goku ©Akira Toriyama)

Balloon introductions have been quite the big deal over the decades, with some of the most popular and beloved pop culture characters of all time receiving balloons. This year, there are five balloon introductions, four of which are characters from the Netflix film, The Christmas Chronicles. The one that has drawn the most press this year is the new balloon for Goku, the lead character from the insanely popular Dragon Ball franchise. Created by Akira Toriyama in Japan in 1984, Goku is an alien warrior that was supposed to conquer Earth as an infant but instead grew into the planet’s defender; he’s headlined multiple manga, film, and anime series, including the current Dragon Ball Z Super. This particular representation of Goku shows him in his powered-up Super Saiyan Blue form, a level of power he reaches to battle stronger antagonists.

4. If You Want Your Band to March, Plan Ahead.

The West Carolina University Marching Band performing during the 2014 Macy's Thanksgiving parade
Western Carolina University marched in the 2014 parade. (Shutterstock)

2018’s parade features 12 different marching bands. To have a shot at getting into the parade, band directors must submit an application and a DVD of a field performance almost two years in advance (the deadline for participation in the 2019 parade was March 2018). Bands are informed if they made it by May of the year prior to their appearance. The chosen few will be part of a field of more than 10,000 participants, including performers, drivers, and balloon handlers (Goku requires 90).

Issue of Playbill featuring the musical "Summer" on its cover
Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, as featured on the opening night Playbill cover. (©Playbillstore.com)

5. They Give Their Regards to Broadway.

Every year, actively running Broadway shows participate in the form of performances that take place either prior to the parade in front of Macy’s during the first hour of the broadcast or during the parade on the route. The four shows taking part this year are Mean GirlsMy Fair LadySummer: The Donna Summer Musical, and The Prom. Along with the Broadway pieces, more traditional New York City flavor is provided by the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes; their precision dance has been the final pre-show act prior to the start of the parade since 1957.

6. Santa Closes the Show.

Santa Claus in a Thanksgiving parade float
Santa Claus’s arrival from the 2014 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. (Shutterstock)

When Macy’s first launched the parade, it was really intended as a Christmas celebration or, at least, the kick-off of the shopping season. The event worked in conjunction with the unveiling of new animated marionette store-window displays and the arrival of Santa Claus for children to visit. Though the event has subsequently become known as Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, Santa remains the parade’s traditional closer, with his arrival at the store signaling the end of the parade.

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