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Holiday Parades: Thanksgiving Tradition that Signals Holiday Season

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“Thanksgiving in New York,” The Detroit Tribune (Detroit, MI), November 30, 1963.

The following is a guest post by Jennie Horton, the 2020 Librarian-in-Residence with the Reference Section in the Serial and Government Publications Division.

Though Thanksgiving 2020 will look different for many Americans next week, one longstanding tradition can still be part of your celebration—watching a parade to kick off the winter holiday season.*

“Santa to Arrive Thanksgiving Day in Macy Parade,” Evening Star (Washington, DC), November 13, 1955. 
“Friday Briefing,” Chicago Tribune (Chicago, IL), November 25, 1977, p. 28. Detail from microfilm.

















The most well-known holiday parade is the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which is also the largest parade in the world! The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was first held in 1924, making it the second-oldest U.S. holiday parade along with the America’s Thanksgiving Parade held in Detroit. Both of these parades are just four years behind Philadelphia’s Thanksgiving Parade which began in 1920.

“MP Boasts Top Christmas Parade,” The Chronicle (Pascagoula, MS), November 27, 1962.

Meant to signal the start of the holiday shopping season, early iterations of Thanksgiving parades included live zoo animals, marching bands, floats, and people dressed in colorful costumes. The extravagant balloons we are familiar with today were not part of parades until 1928. Balloons became such a mainstay that Thanksgiving Day parades were cancelled from 1942 to 1944 because rubber and helium used for balloons were needed during World War II. Early balloon characters were based on popular comic and cartoon characters such as Boob McNutt (1930) and Mickey Mouse (1934). Recent characters to appear in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade include Frozen’s Olaf (2017) and SpongeBob SquarePants (2019).

“A Familiar Figure Walks Down Broadway,” New York Times (New York, NY), December 8, 1935, p. RPA6. Detail from microfilm.

Thanksgiving Day parades gained more popularity beginning in the 1930s, being broadcast via radio and later on television, and also more heavily reported on in newspapers. Traveling to view these parades in person or tuning in on television has become a Thanksgiving tradition for many American families. The 2020 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will be different than in previous years, slated to be a pre-filmed television special. Though there will not be live high school or college marching bands, and the iconic balloons will be carried through the streets by car instead of by people, Americans will still be able to take part in this tradition from their homes.

“Giant Clown was a Star of the 1950 Parade,” Evening Star (Washington, DC), November 21, 1954.

Let us know which Thanksgiving traditions you are keeping this year, or if you will take this unique time to create new ones!

* The Chronicling America historic newspapers online collection is a product of the National Digital Newspaper Program and jointly sponsored by the Library and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Comments (2)

  1. Thanksgiving is all about calm and peace for me. 2020 will not be much different as I’ve always kept this holiday to those living in my house only. I’ll just be missing one special person living further away now. FaceTime here we come!

  2. I love this article about the history Thanksgiving Day parades. Great research!

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