by Margaret Mendel
This year will be the 87th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and it is the biggest annual event NYC has to offer. Millions of people line the streets to see this amazing display, while even more people view the parade on TV. It is a spectacular event that officially brings Santa Claus to town, and when the merchants begin to cry out to the public, “Let the shopping begin!”
Though the parade is a fascinating and a fun time there is another special aspect of this event, and that is the day before Thanksgiving when all the balloons are prepared for the big day. The balloons are brought out of storage, huge trucks filled with helium arrive, blocks and blocks of streets on the Upper Westside are closed off, the pavement is lined with a plastic carpet and the balloons are inflated.
The process begins at 3 p.m. on West 77th Street, next to the Natural History Museum, across from Central Park and extends all the way uptown to West 86th Street. The streets are blocked off and traffic is a mess as the 25 giant rubber figures are slowly filled one after another with helium.
The first parade did not have helium balloons but was composted of motorized floats, professional bands and even the animals from the Central Park Zoo got into the act and were paraded down 5th Ave. Though Macy’s has always sponsored the parade, instead of having Santa arrive at the first parade, a “Jolly Old Elf” was crowned “King of the Kiddies” and placed on a throne on the Macy’s balcony at the 34th Street store entrance.
A great deal has changed since that first parade. Now giant rubber balloons that are nearly a block long are first laid out flat while huge tankers filled with helium stand by waiting to fill the balloons until they look as though they might burst.
Children come to this event and watch as their favorite characters come to life.
Huge nets are thrown over the balloons to keep them from floating away as they are being filled.
It takes many workers and volunteers to prepare these balloons, and these big fellas certainly need plenty of space to grow.
These balloons dwarf the average person even before they are fully inflated.
Blocks and blocks of smaller balloons are assembled and tied to fences outside of the Natural History Museum. These batches of balloons are temporarily decorating the Margaret Mead Green in back of the museum.
If you want to see the characters live in action, here are a few tips to make watching the parade on a Thanksgiving morning a little more enjoyable.
1. Wear warm clothing, though the weather is unpredictable around this time of the year, most likely it will be cool.
2. Bring a thermos of something warm to drink.
3. Perhaps you would like to book a hotel along the parade route and watch from the warmth of a hotel room. If you do, be sure to ask for a room facing the parade and one that is not too high or else you’ll be viewing the parade with binoculars.
4. Unless you have purchased reserved seats in the bleachers along the parade route, you will be standing for up to 3 hours, so wear comfortable shoes.
5. The duration of the parade depends on where you are viewing the parade. The viewing time is about one and a half hours if watching from the beginning of the parade route. The closer you are to the Macy’s store the longer the viewing time and you could be standing for up to three hours before watching Santa take his bow.